Rowing: Searles up the creek without a penny: Britain's Olympic champions are still hampered by a lack of financial backing

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The Independent Online
'I thought when we'd won the Olympics, if we were nice about it and didn't talk too much about money then it would probably come more easily than if we moaned all the time. I'm really surprised that nothing's happened.' Greg Searle who 10 months ago, at 20, won Britain's first, and last gold medal in rowing's coxed pair event with his brother, Jonny, was talking after his agents had issued another appeal for sponsorship.

Since Barcelona the coxed pair has been dropped from the Olympic programme in a controversial move to make way for lightweight events. The Searle brothers have a dilemma. They row, and race, only because they enjoy it. They are ferociously competitive. But they have had to keep their day jobs. However, to compete at the top they need to train for 13 sessions a week which might be compressed into 20 hours, plus travel time.

Greg works for a firm of surveyors in central London, but the pair train at Molesey in the far west of the

capital. It is clear that something has to give. Greg is determined that it is not his employers. 'They have been very good and sympathetic and I've probably had more holiday than someone else at my level,' he said.

They have stayed, with their cox Garry Herbert, in the pair because all the main rivals are still competing, at least for this year's World Championship in Prague. But in 1994 they may have to challenge Britain's other Olympic rowing champions, Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent, in the coxless pairs, or channel their energies into another event like the four or eight. So far this season their races have not matched their Olympic triumph. Third and fourth places in Duisburg were followed by a win and third place in Paris two weeks ago.

But their psychological preparation is complex. They focus their season on a couple of important races and regard all the others as a crescendo. But they are the sort of rowers on whom you would bet your last penny on if they were in touch with the leaders when it came to a sprint to the line. This means they are not percentage performers able to turn out week after week, take the money, and finish just high enough up the field to earn a ticket to the next venue.

Greg is suspicious. 'Maybe that's what wrong with the football and cricket,' he said. 'We go to these dinners and TV shows and meet some pseudo amateurs who can only talk about the money.' But then he acknowledges that some support will be needed to get them back into shape for Atlanta. 'It's such a difficult subject. I don't want to row for money and I don't want to be distracted by it. We've come this far without any, but you can't stay on the breadline and feed yourself properly as well as full- time training camps and all the rest that's now required.'

If they were Italians, or French or Croats, or almost any other of the leading rowing nations, the Searles would not have these worries. In those countries, either the state, a national lottery or a sponsor who covers the whole national team would provide support.

But British rowing has failed to find a single source outside the Sports Council and Sports Aid Foundation which together supply about three- quarters of the necessary funds. Some crews like the successful women's lightweight four, which is given pounds 10,000 by a firm of accountants, have privately arranged help but others must face international competition without being properly prepared beacuse of a lack of funds.

When the Searles went to Naples in May to race with the Abbagnale brothers, the men they beat in a thrilling final in Barcelona last year, they were greeted as heroes and dominated the sports pages for a couple of days. There is now, perhaps, a better prospect of some Italian company sponsoring them as part of its approach to the United Kingdom market than of finding a British sponsor with pounds 30,000 to spare.

The pair will not be at Henley, this week, because there is no coxed pairs event and Jonny is taking exams to be a solicitor. Greg was entered in the single sculls but withdrew when the time spent training in the pair had drained too much of his speed as a sculler. 'If I had lost to Thomas Lange, the Olympic champion, I could have faced it but getting into trouble against some Brit would have been too much to take,' he said.

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