Rowing: Redgrave and Pinsent supreme

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The Independent Online
AS THEY crossed the finish line of the Olympic rowing course, seven seconds inside the old record time, and five seconds clear of all opposition, Matthew Pinsent raised his right arm, index finger erect, while Steve Redgrave turned the grimace of his effort into a smile and leaned forward to pat his partner on the shoulder.

Redgrave explained: 'I'm not an outwardly emotional person, I see no need to inflict how I feel on others. But you never get used to it.' For a man who had just taken his third gold medal it was a very controlled reaction and out of keeping with the excitement and hype of the Olympic circus. But his principal reaction was relief that the meticulous preparation had not failed.

Two and a half months ago he was weakened by an inflammation of the bowel, caused by a bug picked up while training in South Africa, and was losing races. The pair, reigning world champions, were undertaking a stupefying training programme but the book full of figures in coach Jurgen Grobler's hand was not showing the improvement predicted by the German's vast knowledge and experience of Olympic preparation.

The disruption to their work and championship record gave them an important psychological benefit because for some weeks they were no longer Olympic favourites. Grobler's endless regime of timing and testing every type of work soon gave them the hint that they were back on track. Grobler says they were half a per cent faster than last year, when they set the fastest ever time, in the tail wind at the Vienna World Championships.

Yesterday they were six seconds outside that time for two reasons. Firstly, the wind factor: the air was hot and heavy on the water and the only breeze was an occasional puff of head wind. Secondly, the mental factor: Redgrave and Pinsent were in complete control throughout. From the raising of the starter's flag to the moment their bow crossed the line of bubbles in the water at the finish, none of the other crews could do anything to match them.

From the start, the Germans, Peter Holtzenbein and Colin von Ettinghausen, took a small lead as they and the Slovenes did everything they could to hang on to the British pair in the hope that they would be drawn out away from the pack. Exactly one minute from the start Redgrave and Pinsent showed in front and exactly one minute later they consolidated their lead at one length over the Germans and Slovenes.

Then, for almost 1,000m, Redgrave and Pinsent rowed with untroubled efficiency. They answered any push from the others with a lift of the outside shoulders, bringing the blade into the water at the catch of the stroke with the extra snap which lifts the hull up and out of the water, thus opening up the gap on their pursuers.

At 1400m, with almost three quarters of the race gone, Redgrave called for another push to get clear of the pairs chasing the silver and bronze, and in less than six strokes of the full snap of the outside shoulder they were another half-length clear of the field. It was so obvious that they had not given their all that Grobler was able to assert that, if pressed, his men could have taken another three seconds off the Olympic record. They are already talking about challenging it again in Atlanta.

The two women's crews which raced in yesterday's finals found the going tough precisely because they had not had the same thoroughness of preparation. It was not the fault of Bob Michaels, the chief coach who has moved the women's programme forward in the last two years and has suffered a series of misfortunes. The pair of Miriam Batten and Jo Turvey have the right sort of racing spirit which when matched with the precision of training adopted by the top men will bring them into contention.

Today, the Searle brothers and their steersman Garry Herbert will race against the formidable partnership of two other brothers, the Abbagnales of Italy. As Redgrave was, the Abbagnales are twice Olympic champions already; they are also seven times world champions. In one sense the Searles cannot lose today. If they beat the Italians and win the gold medal they have it all now. If they do not, but can pick up a silver or bronze, then the world awaits them, with four years to dominate the event in the full bloom of their strength.

(Photograph omitted)