Rowing: Redgrave still needs challenge

BRITAIN FINISHED third in the medal table at the close of the World Rowing Championships in Cologne yesterday but with no additions to the three golds and one silver taken on Saturday. The team performance was, as for the past 14 years, underpinned by the achievements of Stephen Redgrave, who added an eighth World gold to his four Olympic successes, this time with coxless four partners, Tim Foster, James Cracknell and Matthew Pinsent.

Their win had a moment of uncertainty when, 750 metres from the finish, the Italian crew, which has been close to the front of this event for five years, made a determined charge. The unique depth of experience in the British crew meant no panic followed and the attack was contained without damage and, when in the last 500metres the others, now led by France coming up from fourth, began to close down the margin Redgrave, in the number two seat, was able to call a brief sprint to carry them over the line safely.

In the middle of last winter Redgrave, suffering for the second time from insulin dependent diabetes and 36 years old, began to wonder whether it was worth the huge effort in training to go on winning championships like this.

Although Saturday was more than just another day at the office he was delighted to say: "I still enjoy the challenge and knowing there are several crews who can make this event harder to win gives a point to the training. It was our fastest race this season but not our best."

The women's team, which had outstanding results last year in the first season after the Olympics, managed to consolidate its position with a gold and silver. The double scull stroked by the Paisley-bred Gillian Lindsay and with 33-year-old Miriam Batten in the bow made a courageous start with the strategy to lead the favourites, the Netherlands, who normally expect to be in front at the first quarter.

Outstandingly successful though this was, it gave them the harder task of holding on in front while the Dutch and Romanians ground them down over the second half of the course. That their defence of the lead was so resolute is a testimony to their guts as racers and the technical efficiency imparted chiefly by their coach Mike Spracklen in his permanent training camp at his home in Marlow.

The women's pair of Dot Blackie and Cath Bishop have had their wait for a championship medal unreasonably delayed, notably by a virus which caught Cath Bishop in the semi-finals a year ago. Here they had reached their first ever final, but faced a superb pair of reigning champions, Emma Robinson and Alison Korn from Canada. The British pair, always slower over the first half, were fourth at half way but found their rhythm and used the huge volume of training at Marlow to give them the confidence that they would cover the second half faster than anyone, stripping two seconds off the Canadians to win silver.

The women's light pair of Juliet Machan and Jo Nitsch, a late substitute for Caroline Hobson who went home with a back injury, also took a gold medal in convincing style. Machan said: "I was disappointed there were only four entries in the event because there are few opportunities at this level for lightweight women and if not enough turn up it may get axed. You want to win against the best competition you can find."

The men's lightweights fared better than the nil medal count suggests. The eight and four were both fourth and the single sculler, Peter Haining, finished fifth, aggrieved that his lane on the far side of the course had been unfairly exposed to the stiff cross wind and the quadruple scull was a creditable seventh.