Hunter and Purchase get a grip on day of tough rowing conditions

Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter continued their unbeaten year in their first Olympic race yesterday, taking them to the semi-final of the lightweight double sculls on Thursday.

Their time was the fastest of the three heats on a day when the wind on the Shunyi Lake was uncharacteristically behind the crews. It eventually brought with it torrential rain, thunder and lightning which binned the final two events, the men’s and women’s eights, for the day.

Purchase and Hunter remain un-phased by being favourites for the gold medal, whether they like it or not. “We’ve come here to race everyone and beat everyone,” Hunter said. “We’re keeping our feet on the ground and aim to do what we set out to do 18 months ago, and that’s all we think about.”

An Amazonian clash is set up for Sunday’s final of the women’s quadruple sculls after the Chinese won the first heat and the British the second. China shot ahead and dominated their race, stroke Yangyang Zhang sporting a big smile all the way along the course. The British performance was also impressive, stroke Katherine Grainger setting a cracking pace and the crew producing even splits for the second, third and fourth quarters of the race. The

German crew gave chase but could not make an impression, and an impression is what they need if they are to preserve their country’s hundred per cent record of Olympic gold medals in this event, and give Kathrin Boron in the No 3 seat her fifth consecutive gold.

“The Germans were with us all the way, but we never felt that they were going to come through.” Annie Vernon said.

“It was a tough race. A heat of the Olympics is a step above a world championship final,” Debbie Flood sustained a tiny wrist injury during the race which caused a lot of blood but no feeling of when or how it occurred. Katherine

Grainger, the stroke, who already has two silver Olympic medals, said that they were a different crew since their disastrous result at Lucerne in June. “This is a very different crew, and I’d expect that,” she said. “But we’re certainly better for it. We’re more experienced and can go into more detail analysis about what we’re doing.”

Grainger, who has silver medals from Sydney and Athens and is a member of a quad which could deliver Britain’s first women’s Olympic gold, wears the suggestion of history in the making lightly. “We won a medal in Sydney and it was a break-through, a historic event. We’ll take care of the result first and then let the records take care of themselves.”

Yesterday the lightweight men’s four were on track after the lack-lustre world cup season that followed their world title of a year ago. They were drawn in the same heat as the Chinese crew who won the world title in 2007, and the Brits held off challenges from the Australian crew at the same time as shadowing the Chinese.

In terms of time, very little separates the nine crews that qualified for semi-finals, so just as in the open fours which began on Saturday, there are plenty of contenders for medals, let alone the six places in the final. Paul Mattick, the No 3 in the British crew, said: “We had a nice cruise pace in second 500 metres. That’s what we like, a good rhythm, and to lead on from that rather than be forced to spin over at high rates.”

The double scullers Hester Goodsell and Helen Casey finished third and go to repéchâge tomorrow [TUE]. The men’s and women’s eights are rescheduled for today [MON], along with ac crucial quarterfinal for the sculler Alan Campbell and repéchâges for the women’s double scullers and the men’s and women’s pairs.

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