Rowing: Pinsent and co face moment of truth

Today is the fourth and final race for the coxless four formed on 2 July when Alex Partridge found that he had a collapsed lung and was replaced by Ed Coode. The crew line up against Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and Poland in a boat they have named for Partridge and have vowed to put him across the line first.

Today is the fourth and final race for the coxless four formed on 2 July when Alex Partridge found that he had a collapsed lung and was replaced by Ed Coode. The crew line up against Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and Poland in a boat they have named for Partridge and have vowed to put him across the line first.

This is the pinnacle of Olympic rowing. As far as the British crew are concerned, there is only one result - first. Would Matthew Pinsent, winner in Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney contemplate anything less than a fourth gold? Would Sydney champion James Cracknell entertain silver, bronze or worse? Did Ed Coode, who four years ago led an Olympic final for 1500 metres before three crews passed him, return merely to take part? Would the bow man, Steve Williams, with a world gold and two silvers in the four since he was spare man for the team in Sydney, settle for less than the metal that glistens?

Trouble is, the Canadians Cameron Baerg, Thomas Herschmiller, Jake Wetzel and Barney Williams have the same idea. They are 2003 World Champions and, like the British crew, have won all their races in Athens. The only race they lost was the World Cup final in Lucerne in June when an American four who are now all seated in the US eight slipped through to win when the Canadians had their eye on the British four (with Partridge still on board).

The British crew is coached by Jurgen Grobler, formerly of East Germany, who has guided all of Pinsent's Olympic and World gold medals. This four has had nine men rowing in it since it was first formed in 2001, when Williams, Coode, Toby Garbett and Rick Dunn won the World title. Josh West replaced Coode in 1992 after Coode had complications from a skiing injury, and they won World silver medals in 2002 and 2003.

In February this year Grobler bit the bitter bullet of defeat for Cracknell and Pinsent in the coxless pairs at the 2003 World Championships by ejecting Garbett and Dunn in their favour. In April Partridge replaced West, and in July Coode returned for Partridge.

The crew hiccuped from week to week with minor injuries which caused both Coode and Tom Stallard to sub into it for World Cup events. Since their first race, however, when they won the Stewards' Challenge Cup at Henley on July 4, the current line-up have ratcheted up their performance. Like the Canadians, they won their heat and semi-final in Athens.

Grobler forecasts a fast race. "It will be down to mental toughness and to who can make the one stroke more to break the race.'' He sees it as a race against Canada, but "we must be careful not to overdo it. The opposition might also come through if we fight it out too much at the front. So we must be well paced.''

In the great duel between Cracknell and Pinsent and the Australians James Tomkins and Drew Ginn the British were first and the Australians fourth at the World Championships in 2002, and the positions were reversed in 2003. In today's coxless fours between Britain and Canada, the choice may well be first or fourth, for the other crews have nothing to lose.

Also in the firing line today are Cath Bishop and her pairs partner Katherine Grainger. They are last year's world champions, also in their last race together, having reached the final by way of the repêchage round. They will be challenged by Belarus, Russia and Canada. And Sarah Winckless and Elise Laverick in the double sculls, up against the Evers-Swindell twins of New Zealand, but a match for any of the other finalists.

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