Rowing: Redgrave's four hit form

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Steve Redgrave led Britain's coxless four to an impressive opening victory in the qualifying heats on the first day of the World Championships on Lac d'Aiguebelette in France yesterday.

The four-times Olympic gold medallist, along with team-mates Matthew Pinsent, James Cracknell and Tim Foster, left the rest of the field trailing in their wake. The team has won all eight races entered this year going into the championships and won the 2000 metres heat in 6min 0.55sec, the fastest fours heat of the day, despite letting up considerably in the last 500 metres. The main contest was for second and third as Italy were pipped on the line by Slovenia.

Pinsent, who struck gold in the coxless pairs with Redgrave in Atlanta last year, said: "We began as we always do at major championships - strong in the opening phase and then trying different things as we go along.

"What people have to bear in mind is that we are learning as we go along and that makes a huge difference when you are trying to race." Foster said: "We now feel that we have finally arrived here and can relax to a certain extent."

Romania and France, who won their respective heats, may be Britain's leading challengers in the class. France, with Daniel Fauche, Gilles Bosquet, Bertrand Vecten and Olivier Moncelet may regret that their leading oarsmen Jean-Christope Rolland and Michel Andrieux returned to the coxless pairs in order to avoid Redgrave.

Rolland and Andrieux easily won their heat despite little training in the class. The two decided to give up the coxless four team last month after the Lucerne World Cup regatta, in which they were crushed by the Britons.

The only upset on the first day of the week-long championships came in the men's single sculls with title holder Istok Cop of Slovenia beaten by Germany's Andre Wilins. He will have to go through repechage, unlike Britain's Greg Searle, who cruised through to the semi-finals.

Results, Digest, page 23