Rowing: Pinsent and Redgrave lead British armada: Hugh Matheson on the rowing programme devised to maximise gold-medal chances

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BRITAIN'S two Olympic gold medals in Barcelona, in the coxed and coxless pairs, were no fluke. The same crews became world champions a year later in Prague. But they cannot just hang on until Atlanta. The coxed pair has been dropped from the 1996 programme, in a controversial move to make way for lightweight events, and there is, anyway, a broader strategy to get more British oarsmen and women on the rostrum. In 1980, in Moscow, 14 oarsmen won medals.

After a winter of long, slow, 'extensive' training, 15 coxless pairs raced a full regatta format in Belgium last weekend and Jurgen Grobler, the chief coach, allocated bodies to boats for the summer regattas which lead to the World Championships in Indianapolis in September.

Matthew Pinsent and Steven Redgrave are the biggest and strongest pair of oarsmen in any crew in the world, and probably in any time, as Redgrave's three Olympic golds prove. They fill any crew put up against them with awe. The club they use to intimidate the opposition is a burst of speed unleashed at any time in the race when, with both backs lifting sharply off the catch of the stroke, they can take a length off any pair in the world in 15 strokes and usually in less. Pinsent has said: 'We use it to remind the other pairs that we'll whack them whenever they come too close, and we hope it'll depress them all the way to Atlanta.'

The pair have not been beaten, with both men well, since 1990 when Grobler came from East Germany to take over their coaching and training. They lost a few races, including the national trials in 1992, when Redgrave suffered from an inflamed colon which began when training at altitude in South Africa, and which will trouble him for the rest of his life.

He will be 34 when he races in Atlanta and acknowledges that he can get no stronger. This is not important for their boat speed. There is still plenty to spare, unless, of course, an exceptional new pair emerge from abroad, but it will depend increasingly on improvements in the way they move the boat to keep their edge. In Belgium, Pinsent and Redgrave were in control of the pairs final and beat Tim Foster and Rupert Obholzer by two seconds.

Grobler has opted to make up a coxless four from the two next fastest pairs: Foster and Obholzer will be joined by Ben Hunt Davis and Peter Bridge. A four like this went well last year until Foster's fragile back collapsed. Two pairs from the Cambridge Boat Race crew - Richard Phelps with Sinclair Gore and Roger Taylor with Matthew Parish - will form another coxless four until the Paris

regatta on 18-19 June. They found it hard to regain their superb Boat Race form only three weeks later and will be lucky to pace themselves to another peak in Paris as well as Lucerne and the World Championships.

So, in spite of their wonderful springtime rowing, they will probably rank

behind Obholzer's four and will we used to strengthen the eight which has been made up from the next four pairs home.

The key to the success of the eight will be the presence of Greg and Jonny Searle. With them the crew scraped a bronze in 1991; without them they finished sixth for both the last two years.

The Searles would be happier if Grobler had picked an eight first, and the four second, which would have put Foster and Obholzer alongside them when the real test comes in September.

(Photograph omitted)