Confident foursome advance to semi-finals

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The Independent Online

Great Britain's flagship Olympic boat powered into the semi-finals of the men's four to round off a promising first day of action on the water.

Steve Williams, defending the title he won in Athens four years ago, and crew-mates Andy Triggs Hodge, Tom James and Pete Reed finished a length clear of the dangerous Italians to claim a confidence-boosting win.

Single-sculler Alan Campbell and the men's double sculls of Matt Wells and Stephen Rowbotham also opened their Olympic campaigns with victories.

And while double sculls girls Elise Laverick and Anna Bebington were disappointed to finish third, their medal ambitions remain very much alive heading into Monday's repechage.

Britain's head rowing coach Jurgen Grobler has established the men's four as his first-choice crew over the last eight to 10 years.

It was in the four that Sir Steven Redgrave won his fifth gold medal in Sydney and Sir Matthew Pinsent won his fourth in Athens.

The current quartet are again considered one of the favourites even though they were racing together for only the third time at a major championships today.

Their season has been fractured by injuries at key moments and most of the Olympic preparations have been done in the gym and in training camps.

Despite all that, Britain were comfortable in victory and Williams is convinced there is more to come for Wednesday's semi-final.

"Winning the heat was our objective. That was important for us as a four because we haven't rowed much together internationally," he said.

"There is still room for improvement. We do need to gel a bit more technically. We weren't at our most efficient today. We need more harmony in our strokes.

"We have done some really good stuff in training but there is a step up to doing that in a race, especially at the Olympics.

"There are about 10 boats competing for a six-boat final and you saw that level of competition today. We weren't in the easiest heat but the race was OK. It has given us realistic confidence."

That sense of measured optimism was reflected across the team. The tone was set early by Campbell, who produced a strong performance in the single sculls to seal a quarter-final berth.

The 25-year-old from Coleraine has not had the easiest build-up to the Games either, having had an infection cut out of his leg in June.

Campbell missed three weeks of training but felt no ill-effects today as he produced a powerful start and fast finish to hold off Australian rival Paul Hardcastle.

"I am more than pleased with it. That was my first 2k since the injury. Two months ago I was in hospital. Now I feel there is more to come in this regatta," he said.

"Every race we are going to step it up a little bit more and a little bit more. Fingers crossed, toes crossed, everything crossed that we can have a nice clean run through to the semi-finals now."

Wells and Rowbotham won their heat in commanding style ahead of Croatia and Estonia to reach the men's pair semi-finals and send a firm message of intent to the rest of the field.

"To go in there, put a marker down by winning is really good," said Wells.

"All the opposition will now look at us as a heat winner."

Laverick and Bebington were disappointed after finishing finished third in their heat, behind world champions China and the Czech Republic.

They won bronze at the world championships last year and Bebington is determined to make rapid improvements before Monday's repechage to ensure they remain in the hunt for another podium finish.

"It didn't really go to plan. We had a good start and then the Chinese moved on us through the middle we didn't respond to that very well," she said.

"We are going to throw everything at it to make the final from this position."

The men's pair and women's pair will also be in repechage action on Monday having both failed to secure automatic qualification from the heats.

More British medal hopes begin their campaigns tomorrow with the lightweight men's pair of Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase and the women's quad, featuring veteran Olympian Katherine Grainger, both taking to the water.