The brightest star in the Head of the River Fours was extinguished before the race had started. Imperial College's quadruple scullers, comprising the world coxed fours champions Keiran West, Luka Grubor, Steve Trapmore and Tom Stallard, withdrew from Saturday's four-and-a-quarter mile time trial from Mortlake to Putney because of illness, leaving the way clear for Leander's Matt Langridge, Simon Cottle, Colin Smith and Serryth Colbert, who took the title in 18 minutes 12 seconds.
Illness also affected the leading women's crew, with Lisa Eyre joining Debbie Flood, Alison Mowbray and Guin Batten in place of Tracy Langlands in Leander's quad, who were fastest in 19 minutes 55 seconds. It is only a few years since Leander was exclusively male. Women were admitted to membership to qualify for a Lottery grant to upgrade facilities, now among the best in the country.
The Fours Head is the first major race of the season and by missing out the Imperial crew now have a real challenge ahead as they look towards the 2004 Olympics. The 2003 world championships count as a qualifying regatta for the 2004 Games, and West, Grubor, Trapmore – champions from the Sydney eight – and Stallard won their world title in a non-Olympic class boat. The coxed four members now face the choice of either fighting their way back into the eight or aiming for Britain's Olympic quadruple slot.
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