Rowing: Searles relish underdog role: Interrupted preparations hinder Olympic champions

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A YEAR after their Olympic triumph, and a week before the World Championships in Prague, Jonny and Greg Searle have landed a pounds 240,000 sponsorship to keep them training through to Atlanta in 1996.

Andersen Consulting have chosen the pair, and their coxswain Garry Herbert, as a suitable promotion vehicle because: 'We can make a real difference - success with the English football team would be beyond our means, but these are nice guys who win.' This deal matches the Manu Life sponsorship of Britain's other Olympic rowing champions, Matthew Pinsent and Steve Redgrave.

The two pairs have prepared very differently for Prague. Pinsent and Redgrave will today complete three weeks of altitude training camp at Silvretta in Austria and move straight to the rowing course at Roudnice. The Searles dropped off in London yesterday after training for two weeks in Chester, and 10 days at sea level in Belgium. 'I'm not saying we can't win from Chester but it's a lot safer to do it right, and this support will enable us to avoid cutting corners,' Greg Searle said.

The pairs are the first British oarsmen to benefit from a large personal sponsorship but, because rowing is still purist about its amateur rules, the money is disbursed through the Amateur Rowing Association Trust and will be spent on the direct costs of training rather than on the men themselves. They will still have to keep the day jobs but may be able to ask for more time off.

The remaining team members - who have less than Olympic gold to offer - will be unlikely to find any help beyond the existing Sports Council grants and the Sports Aid Foundation.

While the Searles clearly have the prospect of years more in the sport, their specialist event, the coxed pair, has been dropped from the Olympics to make way for the lightweight events which Fisa, the governing body, hopes will draw in nations not overwhelmingly populated by 6ft 5in, 14st athletes.

The Searles will either have to challenge Pinsent and Redgrave for the coxless pair slot or go into a coxless four or eight where their talent would be diluted, and the probability of a medal would decline. There is the tantalising prospect of a four combining the two pairs but that, while invincible on paper, would be short of the spirit of partnership.

The preparation of the coxed pair for Prague has been interrupted: they missed the Lucerne regatta, the key pre-championship test, because Jonny Searle was taking solicitor's exams.

The Lithuanian pair of Juozas Bagdonas and Minius Petkus have been strongest throughout the season and the French pair and the Italian Abbagnale brothers have beaten the British this summer. But the Searles relish a fight and will want to be the underdogs before the championship final.