Rowing: Norway push Redgrave's four to the limit

STEVEN REDGRAVE and Matthew Pinsent, in the coxless four with James Cracknell and Ed Coode, were made to battle hard right to the finish before claiming Britain's only gold medal of the Fisa World Cup here yesterday.

A new crew from Norway, incorporating the double scull medallists, Kjetil Undset and Steffen Storseph, has picked up pace throughout this season and the event built to yesterday's showdown and it was every bit as exciting as had been expected. The Norwegians stole the lead from the British four after the three-quarter mark and it took a magnificent attack to take it back, with Matthew Pinsent driving the rate up to 46 strokes to the minute in the last 200 metres.

After such drama the British quartet were cool about their triumph. Pinsent denied that they ever need to practice such sprinting. "We train together all the time and can do whatever the necessity of winning calls for," he said, as if to tell the Norwegians they are going to have to try a lot harder to unsettle the British in their pursuit of Olympic gold next year.

But James Cracknell told a tale that betrayed slightly less confidence. "We sometimes do a high 10 at 43 but the rhythm was not as strong today as in the semi-final," he explained. "We knew it would be a harder race and it is good practice. We respond well to hard racing. It is more enjoyable than rowing away from everyone."

Redgrave was unruffled, saying: "We knew they couldn't last the distance and they didn't. We had another couple of gears we did not have to use."

Ed Coode, who replaced Tim Foster in the No 3 seat at Christmas, when Foster left for a back operation, has faced the prospect all season of Foster returning. However, after six months in the crew, Coode now fits in well and justified the instinctive urge of their coach, Jurgen Grobler, to seek more power as the solution to all problems of speed. Foster may be a fraction less powerful, but he has a magical knack for improving the rhythm of any crew he sits in.

After racing at Hazenwinkel in the single scull, he went into the No 7 seat of the British eight and has transformed it. The eight stunned the field by charging through from last place at halfway, led at 43 strokes to the minute by Steve Trapmore in the stroke seat, to take a brilliant silver, behind Russia.

The race carried a message from Foster to Grobler. "He knows I want to row in the four," Foster said. "The eight is a nice alternative. But I trained to come back from the operation through the winner to row in the four and Jurgen knows it."

The eight has gained speed in each race since Foster came in and yesterday took revenge for defeat in the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley by the German eight, which finished last here.

The women's pair of Dot Blackie and Cath Bishop won the World Cup on the cumulative result from three regattas in spite of finishing fourth yesterday. "We've had a bad week here and we're not rowing well technically," Blackie said. "This was probably a good result in the conditions."

Her partner, Bishop added: "The heat and repechage did not go to plan and today we just tried to relax and get into the race."

Simon Dennis and Steve Williams were also fourth placed finishers but World Cup winners in the men's pairs. "In the semi-final we changed our race pattern and tried to lead and set the pace. We were up on Germany and Australia, the first two in the world last year, and got our wrists slapped by Jurgen who told us to stick to our normal plan and come on strong in the last 500 metres. Today he told us not to be too disappointed. We have only been together two months," Williams said.