Three Ulstermen on course to paint London town gold


There w ill be some strolling proudly along the banks of the River Bann today, wondering whether Team GB should sooner be calling themselves Team UK instead. Three sons of Ulster all remained on course for gold here yesterday, Richard and Peter Chambers helping the lightweight four into the final and Alan Campbell comfortably winning his quarter-final in single sculls.

And while everyone else back in Coleraine is doubtless preparing to paint the town red, the Royal Mail may yet be ordering a few cans of a different hue. "They said if we win a gold we'll get a gold postbox in the town," Campbell said. "Hopefully, we'll get three."

"For Coleraine to have three guys heading to Olympics finals is incredible," Richard Chambers agreed. "But we're not just here to make finals. We're here to win gold, and all three of us are capable of doing that."

As well as the Chambers brothers, the lightweight four also includes Chris Bartley, a proud Welshman, and Rob Williams, who learnt to row just down the road from here at Maidenhead. Together they are harnessing the fervour of a crowd so vociferously partisan that the Australian camp is complaining that crews are being distracted from tactical calls. With the first medals to be decided today, moreover, things are only going to get louder.

"It's phenomenal," Campbell said. "The last 750 today was just a wall of noise. They're talking about empty seats at other venues – that's because everyone is here! They've been like the Willy Wonka golden tickets."

The lightweight four posted a quicker time than did the Danes in the other semi-final – 5min 59.68sec against 6:3.53 – thanks in part to a brave effort from the front by the Swiss. After they flashed over the 1500m-line in unison, it was only in front of the roaring galleries that the home crew began to inch ahead. "But we rowed our own race," Richard Chambers stressed. "We know what suits us and we do our own thing. We've looked for consistency and have delivered it in training for the last six weeks, and now in our heat and semi-final.

"You can't help thinking what it would be like to win gold in front of your home crowd. But you have to put all that out of your mind."

This crew had not been preceded by the same ripples of publicity as others in the camp. "We've got some big people in our squad," Chambers shrugged. "We've got defending champions, we've got triple silvers. They're outstanding athletes. And we're very happy just doing our thing."

Campbell, meanwhile, controlled his quarter-final throughout, clear by halfway and holding out by a comfortable length from Germany's Marcel Hacker. His time was quicker than both Mahe Drysdale and Ondrej Synek, in their quarters, though none will have been anxious to reach the bottom of the barrel only 24 hours before the semi-final. If Drysdale and Synek remain favourites, Campbell is plainly on a roll. "I feel in very good form but I do have to keep a lid on it," he said. "When it comes to the final, the gloves will come off."

Both the other British boats on the water yesterday also made it through to their respective finals, though any ambition beyond bronze looks fanciful for Bill Lucas and Sam Townsend, in double sculls, or the ladies' eight, who only survived a repêchage that sieved out just one of five crews. The British eight include Townsend's fiancée, Natasha Page, who admitted: "We need to be a bit more gutsy, have a bit more belief. We'll be giving it all we've got. We'll hold our heads high."

No less so Hamadou Djibo Issaka, who wrote another chapter of his surreal Olympic adventure in the solo sculls. The 35-year-old novice from landlocked Niger was duly tailed off in his latest eliminator in the single sculls, doubtless feeling the effects of his first races as he crawled home in his slowest time yet, 9min 7.99sec. But he was once again received in such rapture that the Australians probably had to suspend training.