Rowing: Britain could be on course for record haul: Coxless pair of Redgrave and Pinsent providing the cutting edge as climax to World Championships begins

THE British team, with Steven Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent providing the cutting edge, could race well enough today to provide an unprecedented five medals on the first day of finals in the World Championships.

The coxless pair of Pinsent and Redgrave have dominated the event for so long that they rank as the outstanding athletes here. From the evidence of the heats and semi-final in which, by the vagaries of the draw, they twice encountered the pair who have pushed them hardest this season, there is no one to catch them.

They want to race through to Atlanta in 1996 and think that the easiest path to that objective is win everything along the way and to suppress the opposition through tyranny. Their confidence is high and their coach, Jurgen Grobler - who can be accused of not dealing well with lesser athletes - has handled their preparation perfectly.

The lightweightmen's eight have also won the key races this season and looked very strong in the first round. But eights is a more fickle event requiring each man to squash his more volatile qualities into the synthesis of the whole. This British eight is better than last year's, who were also expected to win but never found full speed in the final and faded to fifth. Today's race, meanwhile, is Sean Bowden's swansong, the Nottinghamshire and national coach moving on from here to a life of surfing in California after five years of exhausting work and brilliant success.

The men's coxless four have the most interesting pedigree of all the British crews. It is the work of Steve Gunn, a teacher at Hampton School in West London who taught the stern three of Rupert Obholzer, Johnny Searle and Greg Searle. Gunn's crews amaze because they storm through in the climax to the season without any early-season evidence to support their case.

It is a mug's game trying to penetrate this mystery. The Searles are a potent mixture of the quiet, strong Greg, who displays many of the scars of a bright, talkative attention-seeking elder brother. They are not automatons, training to exclusion of all else. They have generous sponsorship, but choose to work full time and place much above their rowing in the winter. They are still capable, though, of concentrating their whole personalities into one supreme performance.

Rupert Obholzer, who strokes the four, is a medical student who appears hesitant and unwilling to talk. His rowing is similarly spare, but on analysis extremely efficient. He and the bow man, Tim Foster, came closest to Redgrave and Pinsent in the April trials and have been able to hold their position in the second boat by guile and watermanship in lieu of raw power.

The women's pair of Miriam Batten and Jo Turvey have been together for three years since Batten's bronze-medal partner, Fiona Freckleton, dropped out with illness, but have never realised their potential. They are accused of becoming too distracted with the quality of the opposition and of choking on the big occasion.

This may be unfair. There are qualitative differences between them and the opposition in the way they move the boat and particularly in the speed of the catch at the start of the stroke. Their confidence and consistency would be boosted with a bronze medal here which might lead to a more dynamic catch and a fuller reward for their undoubted strength and talent.

The men's lightweight double scull of Andy Sinton and Stuart Whitelaw have never lived up to their promise until Thursday's semi-final, when they rowed a beautifully-judged race and won a place in the final.

This seemed to be the limit of their scope, but they handle rough water well and the crosswind here is expected to be at its strongest for the finals. They might profit from their watermanship and their own belief that they can finish third.