Rowing: Abingdon sink Eton's hopes

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HENLEY ROYAL REGATTA started yesterday bang on time at 9am with no excuses for rain or bad light. There was a breeze, mainly straight ahead, blowing through the day in varying strengths, but within the traditions of the regatta there was no whingeing about the relative difficulties of wind or stream on the two stations.

"Berks" could be said to have had the slightly better time of it over "Bucks". However, in these early stages of the regatta there were few close races and none of the beaten crews could offer a genuine grievance.

The Princess Elizabeth Cup for schools eights saw all the selected crews going through and, for the first time ever, Eton going out to Abingdon in the first round.

The Thames Cup, the third- ranked eights event for clubs, also opened with some close races, including the meeting of Queen's Tower and their boathouse hosts London Rowing Club, who had one win apiece from the early- season races.

Queen's Tower led from the start and had a canvas advantage at the end of the island but at the Barrier London had stolen a quarter length.

They held on beyond Fawley, when the stream was heavier for them, and pulled out in the last 20 strokes to win by one and a quarter lengths in the fastest time of the day, 6min 46sec.

In the Wyfold Cup for coxless fours, the Notts County RA, racing now as Holme Pierrepont Rowing Club, with a lightweight crew, looked sharp but will find stiffer opposition among the other selected crews from London University, Neptune Eire and Brock of Canada.

Brothers Simon and Alistair Brown have dreamed of sharing Henley glory together and were dismayed when their rival crews were drawn to face each other in the opening round of the Wyfold Challenge Cup.

The form books seemed to suggest that Alistair, 18, would breeze into the second round, and rowing for Steve Redgrave's Leander Club, the junior international helped his coxless four take the early lead against Bradford- on-Avon.

However, on the unique stretch of the Thames that forms the famous Henley course there is no substitute for age and experience. After trailing for much of the race Simon, seven years Alistair's senior, and his fellow crew members staged an impressive fightback to close out Leander by just 6ft - the closest winning margin of the morning.

Today the Diamond Sculls will open with a potentially tricky heat for Greg Searle, winner in 1997 and losing finalist last year to the world champion, Jamie Koven.

Searle, who has had poor spring training because of a back injury, meets Marcel Hacker, a German former junior world champion. Hacker finished fourth in the opening World Cup regatta in Belgium a month ago and will not be intimidated by the world bronze medallist. Koven meets another American, Aquil Abdullah, who should not hinder him.

In the Princess Royal Cup for women scullers the five- times winner Maria Brandin, of Sweden, will expect to meet the British single sculls representative Alison Mowbray in the second round, and Debbie Flood, the junior silver medallist, who is in her first year at this level will face the Olympic quadruple sculls champion Katrin Rutschow.

Results, page 24