Rowing: British team wilt in heat of the heats

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By Hugh Matheson in Cologne

THE BRITISH team for the World Championships did not fare as well here on the second day of heats yesterday as they did with their excellent showing in Sunday's opening rounds.

The men's eight, which had been rather insulted not to be seeded after good second and third places in the Fisa World Cup during the summer, got off to a cracking start and rowed stroke for stroke with the German crew, which had dominated the European season, including a win in Lucerne. The seeded Australians quickly dropped back with the Canadians, and New Zealand hung on to the leaders briefly before losing, two, four and six seconds in each succeeding 500 metres.

The German stern pair of Marc Weber and Stefan Forster, who spent the first half of the year in England winning the Boat Race for Cambridge, held their boat a canvas ahead of the British, with the Oxford pair of Ed Coode and Andrew Lindsay, to the halfway mark before pulling out a half length lead in the tactical burst to the finish after the 1,000m mark. The British then led the rest of the pack through the second half to finish level on times with Russia.

The British Women's eight which took a bronze medal in Aiguebelettes a year ago has found the going tougher this time and yesterday were dropped at the start by Romania and Belarus and left to row level with Germany for the first half of the course. But at 1,000m the Germans began to move and the British slipped back four seconds in the third quarter before finishing 12 seconds off the pace set by Romania and the United States in two very equal heats.

The most exciting British result came from the lightweight coxless four which has not shown any real speed all season. The four, settled now for two months, held on to the unbeaten Danish crew, which has had this event to itself for almost five years, and even had the cheek to close on them to half a length over the last 500m. This is a breakthrough for the British team which now has a good balance, with two strong men in the middle and two lighter men in the bow and stern. As an Olympic event it has been especially important to start to build a crew in good time for Sydney 2000.

Today's repechage races show the good results earned on the first day have paid off, with British crews drawn in the centre lanes and with easier routes to the semi-final. The three single scullers have all avoided former finalists and with three to qualify in the women's event Guin Batten should be able to find a good slot in the semi final by winning a comparatively easy repechage. Greg Searle faces no-one who finished within 16 seconds of him in the heat and for Peter Haining, in the lightweight single, the margin is 19 seconds.

The men's pair of Fred Scarlett and Steve Williams have drawn an Australian pair from "the awesome foursome" which won in 1992 and 1996, but they were only a second apart on Sunday and have no other real challengers in the repechage and a clear route to the last 12.

The women's pair, which put in a resoundingly good performance in the second half of their heat after a dull first 100, should qualify for the final with Australia. They should also be able to give themselves some vital tactical training in using their decisive burst of extra pace in the most telling part of the race, rather than always closing gallantly at the end after letting the field get away from them off the start.