The British team have hit the ground running at the World Championships this weekend, with 13 boats in finals today and tomorrow and 10 of them heading for the medal zone. The coxless four are expected to repeat their world title today, while the golden record of James Cracknell and Matthew Pinsent in the coxless pairs is on the line (and the BBC screen) at 12.30.
The race of the regatta will be an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between the two best pairs in the world. Cracknell and Pinsent and the Australians Drew Ginn and James Tomkins have won 28 gold medals collectively, seven in the Olympics and 21 in the World Championships. The last year that Pinsent did not win gold was 1990, and a win today will bring his personal total of world titles to 10 – one more than his old partner Sir Steve Redgrave.
The British pair provided cabaret last year by winning the coxed and coxless pairs on the same day. There was no chance of them attempting such a feat this year as soon as they heard that Ginn and Tomkins, impressive winners of the pairs in 1999 before injury to Ginn kept him out for two years, were back on the warpath. Their dramatic reappearance at the World Cup in Lucerne electrified the event and ended Cracknell and Pinsent's unbeaten record when they lost to the Australians in both the heat and the final.
Standing on the medal podium in Lucerne, Pinsent told Tomkins that he was glad to see him back. It was a genuine sentiment, because the British crew had seen off all-comers and were beginning to look stale. Undoubtedly they are now slimmer and trimmer and faster, but nobody has been required to engage top gear during the preliminary rounds.
The chances are that physically the Brits are superior, technically the Australians are superior; but mentally, who knows? Ginn and Tomkins never betray a hint of tension, while Cracknell and Pinsent carried a lot of mental baggage around over the summer. Have they shed it? It is doubtful.
Reputations, records and prospects for the Olympics in Athens in 2004 hang on this race.
Every crew in the men's heavyweight team are in a final. The coxless four's season has been up and down and stands level with the Germans, each having won two of their four encounters. Steve Williams, Josh West, Toby Garbett and Rick Dunn have raced with finesse and determination, and they should cross the line first today. Matt Wells and Ian Lawson have beaten the 2001 world champions in the double sculls, and are capable of a medal. Tomorrow the coxed four – Tom Stallard, Steve Trapmore, Luka Grubor or Kieran West, and cox Christian Cormack – should win. The decision of whether Grubor, injured in a fall before the heat, will return to the boat will be made today.
Today's best medal prospects in the women's team are Frances Houghton and Debbie Flood in the double sculls. Tomorrow Helen Casey and Tracy Langlands could be looking at gold in the lightweight doubles, and Naomi Ashcroft and Leonie Barron are looking at gold in the lightweight pairs.
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