ROWING: Coxless four lead the way for Britain

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THE BRITISH team shone in the opening heats of the World Championships here yesterday, with each crew placed as high as could be expected in pursuit of a place in the finals next weekend.

They were led, as usual, by the coxless four, who confirmed their position as world champions with a masterful display, winning a heat at 32 strokes to the minute and apparently 10 per cent below their maximum.

The single scullers each finished second. For Greg Searle and Guin Batten, this was a pleasant return to form. Neither had been seeded for a place and each had to beat a former champion to make it. For Searle, it was true to the script since 1991 to arrive at the Championships in great form after a season of underachievement by his own gold standard. Guin Batten has also struggled this year but looked assured in pushing the Henley winner, Maria Brandin, into third place.

In the lightweight event Peter Haining, the eloquent Scot who has won the world championship three times, must have been a little disappointed to finish behind James Martinez, of the United States. More worrying, Martinez gained an extra two seconds shortly after half way and although Haining raised the rate to 38 strokes to the minute he was unable to close the gap decisively.

The men's lightweight eight have dominated in Europe throughout the season but succumbed in the heats to the only crew they have not met. The United States finished with a quarter length of clear water. Jason Keys, the stroke, said it was soggy from the start and the eight never found the rhythm the earlier races had shown. The race times confirmed that his crew had rowed badly rather than the United States been unexpectedly good. In the other heat, crews normally behind the British had quicker finish times.

The women's pair of Dot Blackie and Cath Bishop, who started the season well only to unravel slightly at Lucerne, looked out of sorts in the first half of their heat, slipping back to fourth place at 1,000m. However, when they put in their trademark final push they closed up on the Canadian world champions and set the second fastest time of the event.

The women's double scull justified their seeding, despite making only one appearance this year and won a fine heat, leading in a new Romanian crew, who might yet pose a threat come the final on Saturday.

The men's pair and double scull, both novice crews at this level, pushed up to good third places and earned themselves an easier run through the repechage system tomorrow.

Seville has pipped Munich and Milan in the race to stage the 2002 World Championships. Fisa, the international rowing federation, awarded the event to the Spanish city by a majority decision. It will be the first time Spain has staged a rowing world championships. Fisa also named Duisburg in Germany and Trakai in Lithuania as the host cities for the 2001 and 2002 World Junior Championships.