Redoubtable Redgrave doubles his options in pursuit of record win

Rowing:Daniel Topolski anticipates Britain's top oarsman enhancing his status at Henley
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The Independent Online
It will come as no surprise that Steve Redgrave, the outstanding British oarsman of the past 50 years, will dominate Henley Royal Regatta yet again this year. But there will be a touch of poignancy accompanying the inevitable superlatives, because this is to be his last competitive appearance at the regatta, which starts today.

The five-times world champion has decided, like Linford Christie, to retire - but, unlike Christie, not until he has achieved his ultimate goal: an unprecedented fourth successive Olympic gold medal in Atlanta. "We'll be in America training this time next year," Redgrave said, "so I won't be able to race at Henley again."

So, to ensure he savours every last bit of the unique atmosphere of the regatta, and gives the home crowd a chance to have a good last look, he and his pairs partner, Matthew Pinsent, a Boat Race winner with Oxford, have entered two events. In the pairs, he is seeking a record seventh victory in the Silver Goblets to bring his career total of Henley medals to 14. He and Pinsent have also joined forces with two more Oxford Boat Race Blues, Jo Michels and Laird Reed, to tackle the British national crew in the Prince Philip Cup for coxed fours.

"We were getting a little bit bored after six years training only in the pairs," Redgrave said. "So we decided to give ourselves a bit of an extra challenge." He and Pinsent need such goals to keep them sharp, and they keep raising the stakes. Apart from a fourth Olympic title for Redgrave, they are also bidding to win an unprecedented six major championships in a row.

"It's all about pressure," Redgrave explained. "We aim to decisively demoralise the opposition whenever we race. An aura of invincibility softens up our rivals and is very motivating for us."

With a record total of 544 entries, 94 of them from abroad, Henley Royal Regatta once more boasts a high-class field of word-class performers as well as the closed club, school and college eights and fours events, the first rounds of which begin today.

There are only two contenders for the Grand Challenge Cup, with the British national eight facing last year's winners, the American world champions, in Sunday's final. Mike Spracklen, the coach of the US eight, was Redgrave's first mentor during the 1980s, and he will be opposed by Sean Bowden, who took Britain's lightweight crew to a gold medal at the same World Championships last year.

The Olympic coxed pairs champions, Greg and Jonny Searle, are now racing a coxless four with the London University students, Tim Foster and Rupert Obholzer. They won a world bronze last year, but have still to find their best form if they are to beat America's national crew. Cambridge, too, have entered, powered by their Croatian boat race hero, Marco Banovic.

In the Women's World Cup, Britain's Guin Batten is drawn to meet the 1993 winner, Maria Brandin of Sweden, in Saturday's semi-final. However, the Canadian Silken Laumann, in the other half of the draw, and the favourite to win the World Championships last year until she was disqualified for a false start, will surely make no mistakes this week.