Rowing: Carry on No 8, your time as a champion is not yet up: The 45-year-old Andy Ripley was a winner again at the championships that take place away from the water. Hugh Matheson reports

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SHORTLY before white checkmated black on the Twickenham chessboard, a 45- year-old who once played white with the red rose won his age class at the Perpetual Indoor Championships at Blackley.

Andy Ripley, the former England No 8, pulled the chain on the rowing ergometer for an equivalent of 2,500 metres in 7min 53sec. He had earlier told Cliff Morgan on Radio 5 that he was ideally suited to the machine because it required 'big lungs, a slow heartbeat and a small brain'.

Naturally the rowing crowd looked askance at the latter, and a glance around the resting athletes slumped around the Blackley Leisure Centre prompted a different assessment. Annemarie Dryden, 27, a Cambridge contemporary of Rob Andrew and Gavin Hastings, was reading a biography of Brendan Behan. 'My mother grew up in the same road in Dublin and used to step over his snoring body on her way to the shops,' she said.

But this prompted another question. What does anyone think about while training for up to 100 minutes on a tiny plastic seat that rolls back and forth on six feet of box tube, drawing an oar handle attached like a T-bar to a bicycle chain which spins a wheel braked by squares of plastic?

The rowing ergometer has been reinvented a dozen times over the last 40 years, using all kinds of resistance to simulate the way a boat is rowed through water. But only when the wind vanes were attached to the bike wheel did it become cheap enough to be used as a universal training implement.

The championships had 700 entries, of which most were oarsmen but 200 came from other disciplines, including 60 triathletes and a smattering of rugby players.

Dryden, a lightweight world champion in both wet and dry rowing, won again on Saturday. She said her coach Bill Mason had recently made her work with her feet unstrapped, which 'requires much more poise and ensures a smooth finish at the end of the stroke. This gives you something to think about.' The ergometer has recently been taken up by all sorts of people, according to John Wilson, European sales manager for one manufacturer. 'We have machines in every ship in the Royal Navy,' he said. 'They're used by both sides in the prisons: it's handy if you can't get out for a run.

'But the best advertisement is that every member of the England rugby squad has one. And we're represented in New Zealand by Sean Fitzpatrick. You can't win them all.'

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