Olympic and world champions were in action in the rain at the Royal Regatta here yesterday. They all qualified serenely and the really close tussles happened in the less exalted but more exciting confrontations.
A series of heart-stopping races with the result in doubt until the final strokes brightened a murky morning with the Irish providing much of the drama. Neptune edged out a brave Quintin eight in the Thames Cup and Galway's National University crew gave the selected London four a fright in the Britannia Cup holding them to a third of a length. In the Temple Cup, Queen's University Belfast, victors over the selected Americans Orange Coast in the second round, were bidding to upset the form book yet again against Marist College – first timers at Henley. But despite attack after attack by the Queen's stroke James Cleland, and with only a quarter-length separating the crews throughout, the Americans held on to win by three feet.
In the next race Molesey's quad, containing the veteran Olympic medallists Jonny Searle and Richard Stanhope, just failed by a third of a length against the young guns of Leander. But it was no disgrace since this was 20-year-old Ross Hunter's 16th unbeaten Henley race, with three titles already won. His Zimbabwean crewmate Colin Smith has a similar record of two titles at the age of 19.
Britain's world junior sculling champion, Matthew Langridge, looked to have the measure of Mercantile's David Crawshay after two minutes. But an attack by the Australian took him from a length and a half down to a length up at the Mile. Langridge dug in and regained the lead to win by a length. "He must have answered a few questions about himself; it's a lonely life out there," said the three-times world lightweight champion Peter Haining, who earlier lost to Spain's world heavyweight coxed pair selection, Xavier Rojas and Rubens Rubio.
Predictably, the Olympic and World champions Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell recorded their second comfortable victory, over Aidan Dunn and Samuel Hogsbjerg of Sudbury Rowing Club, in defence of their Goblets title in what is for them a warm-up series of races in preparation for their meeting with Australia's James Tomkins and Drew Ginn in Lucerne's World Cup regatta in 10 days.
First, though, they must defeat the selected South African world silver medallists, Ramon di Clemente and Donavan Cech, in tomorrow's final.
The world doubles scull champions, Akos Haller and Tibor Peto from Hungary were too strong for Royal Chester and Grosvenor and are well on course to meet France's Sébastien Vieilledent and Adrien Hardy. The women's events began yesterday and the inaugural race for the new Remenham Cup was thrilling, with the lead changing all the way up the course.
The Thames and Wallingford clubs have ruled the domestic roost recently but The Tideway Scullers' School eight attacked in the last quarter, drew level and went away to win by a length.
In the women's sculls, Germany's World champion Katrin Rutschow-Stomporowski, the bronze medallist Sophie Balmary of France and Roumiana Neykova from Bulgaria, all slipped into the semi-finals, where British resistance will be provided by the Olympic silver medallist Guin Batten.
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