Rowing: Redgrave and Pinsent play it cool into final

OLYMPIC GAMES: Ken Jones watches Britain's leading oarsmen stay on course for gold
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An enterprise that raises a great deal of anticipation in British circles is the renewed Olympic effort Steven Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent are putting in at Lake Lanier, some 70 miles from Atlanta.

On a surprisingly cool morning that came as a godsend to the early starters, the sun screened by grey clouds that hung low over the verdant surroundings, the British pair steadily made up ground on still water to reach tomorrow's final of the coxless pairs.

Since Redgrave and Pinsent are considered likely to reprise the gold medal they won in Barcelona four years ago, first place in a semi-final ahead of New Zealand and Italy did not surprise any of the three or four thousand spectators present.

What did cause some slight concern however was a winning time of 6min 50.30sec, almost four seconds slower than that posted by Australia in the first semi-final a short while earlier.

Whether this indicated an error in pacing by the British was not known, but more than three-quarters of the 2,000-metre course had been covered before daylight appeared between them and second placed New Zealand.

An impression held here is that in matters of pace and stamina rowers perform roughly in the manner of racehorses. It is not so much that they seek surges in acceleration as the energy to sustain maximum momentum.

Employing a strike rate that would bring a scathing comment from Redgrave, the US pair, Michael Petersen and Jonathan Holland, were a full length in front at the half-way stage but fell away badly, finishing fourth. "If a crew wants to race like nutters at the beginning, and end up in a B final it is up to them," Redgrave said.

This led to a spat between Redgrave and an American reporter who raised the thorny issue of transportation in Atlanta in which the British rowers became involved earlier this week when they moved into a hotel close to the rowing course after complaining about difficulties in arriving on time.

When the American then asked Redgrave if he considered the American tactics precipitous, he became aggressive. "I'm not an educated man," he said. "I don't understand the word."

Of course, long experience (they won every race they entered between Barcelona and Atlanta) had alerted Redgrave and Pinsent to the folly of premature effort. "Australia and France are our main opposition," Redgrave said, "but we knew that the USA and New Zealand had real potential. If we'd been sucked in by the US, raced them to 1,000 metres, then we might have ended up in the B final ourselves. The Americans were fast enough to be in the final but they paced it badly."

News that Michael Holland collapsed after the race and was rushed off for medical attention seemed to confirm a serious miscalculation in the expenditure of energy. "We conserved ours," Pinsent said. "We rowed the race we wanted to race and reached the final without using up too much of ourselves."

Further encouragement for the British team came when the Searle brothers, Greg and Jonny, along with Rupert Obholzer and Tim Foster easily won their semi-final in the coxless fours.

By the time the British crew went off conditions had changed marginally, the temperature higher, sun glinting on the water and bearing down on a full grandstand. Comfortably in charge of proceedings after 500 metres, they came in ahead of Romania and Slovenia, firmly established among the favourites.

Apparently more Corinthian in approach than Redgrave and Pinsent the coxless four crew are nevertheless among the favourites for tomorrow's final and, in consideration of the knowledge that the Searles were Barcelona gold medallists in the the coxed pairs, shortening all the time.

Guin Batten will be another British face in the finals. Putting in a stout bid she managed third place in the women's single sculls behind Trine Hansen of Denmark and the US representative, Ruth Davidon.

As for Redgrave and Pinsent their focus now is on the challenge expected from the Australian crew, David Weightman and Robb Scott, a comparatively new partnership. "There is a lot at stake for them," Scott said. "We are having a great time and all is going well. We can't wait for the final." They are being taken seriously.

Olympic Games, reports and results, pages 25-27