Rowing: Redgrave set for rest of world

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The Independent Online
The British team for the World Rowing Championships, which starts on Monday, on Lac Aiguebelettes, near Chambery, in eastern France remains strong despite the post-Atlanta retirement of a generation of internationals.

The leaders in results, and in the glamour and money which follow, are the coxless four, with Tim Foster and James Cracknell winning the two seats alongside the world's most successful modern rowing partnership of Steven Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent. The four, who made their debut in Munich, are unbeaten and have developed their responses to different types of challenges presented from the conditions and opposing crews.

The French have a new fours line-up after producing two fast crews in World Cup races in Paris and taking third place in Lucerne, but the hardest for the British to beat seems likely to be Romania, who finished second in Lucerne.

The key issue to be discussed by Fisa, rowing's governing body, at their congress in Aiguebelettes is which system should be adopted in their attempt to reduce the total number of athletes in the Olympic rowing programme by 10 per cent between Atlanta and Sydney. The proposals include variations on dropping the eights or insisting they be composed of athletes doubling up from other events.

Since 1972 the total number of a full World Championship team has risen from 23 to 89, with the introduction of new boat classes such as the quadruple scull, as well as a women's team and lightweights for men and women.

Lightweights have come into the Olympic programme with the intention of widening the number of competing nations and pushing away from the heavily built Europeans and towards South-east Asia and Africa. The World Championship team is now divided into the Olympic and non-Olympic events, with greater kudos and depth of competition in those boats that will be selected for Sydney.

The men's coxless pair of Bobby Thatcher and Ben Hunt Davis emerged almost by accident at the Munich regatta in the first round of the World Cup and raced well in Paris and Lucerne to finish second overall behind Lithuania.

But since then the French team have regrouped, bringing back the Olympic bronze medal pair of Michel Andrieux and Jean Christophe Rolland, and the Australians, fourth in Lucerne after an exhausting European tour, will have picked up fresh speed. Thatcher and Hunt Davis must secure a solid placing before seeking to follow Redgrave and Pinsent in dominating the event.

Britain's women's double scull, with Miriam Batten and Gillian Lindsay, have gone well in training after they followed a good second in Paris with fourth in Lucerne. Batten was the first, and last, British woman to win a sweep rowing World Championship medal when taking bronze in 1991, and she is on the edge to take second here.

Her sister Guin Batten, who is in the single scull, was troubled by a virus after taking fifth in Atlanta and will not have an easy time in France with the top scullers back this year, with Ekaterina Khodotovich, of Belarus, expected to dominate. Batten said: "I have had good preparation since Lucerne and the high-altitude camp went better than before but I will find it difficult having missed so many races."

The new British women's eight have also gone well in training, with the coxless four, a non-Olympic event, doubling up with two from last year's team and the winners of the Under-23 World Championships gold, Katherine Grainger and Francesca Zino, in the stern pair.

The lightweight men's team is led by the coxless four from the London Rowing Club which set the world's best time in Paris in 1994. The rest of the squad is packed into an eight which finished second in Lucerne.