Rowing / Prospects for Gold: Searle brothers search for glory: Eight into two produces a British pair capable of tackling the best in the world: Hugh Matheson meets the talented newcomers to the rowing fraternity with an Olympic goal in their sights

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The Independent Online
A YEAR AGO Jonny and Greg Searle sat in the middle of a resurgent British eight which, in the last quarter of the race, charged up from fifth position to take the bronze medal in the World Rowing Championships in Vienna. This year they are alone, except for the noisy but inert presence of the coxswain, Gary Herbert.

The Searle brothers are the great surprise hope for a British medal in the Olympic regatta in Banyoles, 124 kilometres north of Barcelona.

The Searles shoved their way into the small, closed shop of the coxed pair, the heaviest boat class in world rowing, with two startling performances this summer. They now stand as one of a top group of four among whom the medals are likely to be shared on 2 August, thanks to a richly deserved success in the coxless boat in the April trials for the Olympic squad.

After training and racing together for most of the winter, they faced the world pairs champions, Steven Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent, in a six-boat final on a blustery night in Nottingham. There was great tension in the air, because the Searles had made no secret of the fact that Redgrave and Pinsent were their target.

As the trials had advanced, the Redgrave pair looked vulnerable; but, in the final, Pinsent, at stroke, blasted the champions to a one and a half length advantage after 500m. The Searles stayed cool and rowed an evenly paced set of four 500m pieces to catch Redgrave and Pinsent in the last quarter and race home five seconds clear. Their joy was unconfined - and very audible to the losers ploughing behind.

The trials win earned them the right to race the world champions for the coxless pair Olympic nomination. They messed up the first chance when they failed to start at the Cologne regatta after a mix-up at the start. On the second day they went coxed and finished third, close behind Poland and Czechoslovakia, the silver and bronze medallists of 1991. They opted to continue in the coxed boat for the Essen and Lucerne regattas and stayed in the frame.

Their racing, once inside the magic circle of the half-dozen top crews, has revealed an alarming inability to judge the right pace for the middle half of the 2,000m course. At Lucerne, they were last at half-way, seven seconds behind, and only came up to fourth place with a gutsy sprint finish which carried them past the Abbagnale brothers from Italy, the Olympic winners in 1984 and 1988.

Three weeks ago they went to a high altitude training camp at Silveretta in Austria with the rest of the team. For the first week or so they ranked last among the men's crews, when performance is measured as a percentage of gold medal times. But as the programme demanded higher numbers of strokes to the minute and they got closer to sprint mode, they climbed through the rankings.

The assumption now is that they still lack the mid-race pace, but will expect to blast through the field in the last quarter. 'It's easier that way,' Greg said. 'When I'm in front I think, God, what do I do now? But when we're behind there's nothing for it but to pull harder.'

Their appearance together is no accident. When Jonny was the president of the Oxford Boat Club in 1990, he admitted that his remaining ambition in rowing was to win a gold medal in a pair with his brother, who was then still a schoolboy, although admittedly a junior world champion. They like rowing together because they have exactly the right mixture of rivalry and respect.

Greg, the younger at 20, is bigger and has the horsepower to win the ergometer trials. The ergometer is a brutal rowing machine attached to a computer which measures the oarsman's power output with the same calibration as the National Grid. Jonny, 23, refers to his brother as 'the big hoofer' and boasts that he allows himself to be pulled along. Jonny is slighter, known by Gregory as 'the weed', but at 1m 90cm (6ft 2in) and 85kg (187lb) this is relative. He has won a sculling trial, which is proof of his watermanship and skill in moving a small boat.

They both learned to row at Hampton School, in west London, although Greg began by making his name in rugby and only committed himself to rowing when his brother began to do well. When they won the trials in April, they had no formally assigned coach, although they had been taking pot luck from the several international coaches at their club, Molesey.

They called on Steve Gunn, a teacher at Hampton. He was just back from a visit to his wife's family in New Zealand, and they persuaded him to drop a full diary for the summer to take them on to Banyoles. As boys, Gunn had taught them a key lesson: 'Everyone has a right to win.'

(Photograph omitted)