Steven Redgrave took his fame as Britain's most successful Olympic athlete away from Atlanta and up to the beautiful Lake Lanier created 40 years ago in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains yesterday morning and did what he has been doing for the last four years. His heat of the coxless pairs, with partner Matthew Pinsent, did not contain any of the young pretenders although in the lane alongside them were the Croatians, Marko Banovic and Ninoslav Saraga, who finished 3.5sec behind, in fifth place, at last year's World Championships.
As usual Matthew Pinsent took the British pair off at a high pace to spread the opposition and quell any irreverent dreams they might have of victory. They reached the 500 metres and 1000m marks a second faster than the leaders of the other heats and, only when the message was clear, did they ease off and drop the rate well below 30 strokes to the minute and press the cruise button.
If there was any hope for their opponents, it was that Redgrave and Pinsent each fell prey to a stomach bug in the summer and had not raced as a pair since the Cologne regatta in May. They have had plenty of pace training camps with the rest of the British crews and showed no lack of preparation yesterday.
The British men's coxless four had ended the season rather lamely finishing sixth in Lucerne, but they had sent reports home from training camp of sharply increasing speed and the draw could hardly have been kinder with all the potential finalists in the other heats. Rating 44 strokes to the minute, they managed to pull up from last to cross the first 500m mark in second place close behind China, who then quickly faded to last.
The British four kept up the pace, never dropping below 38 strokes to the minute in the first 1,000m, which they reached a second ahead of the field. They added to their advantage in the third 500 and in the last, normally their strongest, they cruised home. With three crews to qualify for the semi-final, it was a show of strength that was not a necessity and as such was reassuring for the large gathering of British spectators.
Guin Batten is never one to embarrass herself with a flourish when a phlegmatic, stolid performance will get her through to the next day, but her her lack of enterprise may in the end cost her a final place in the women's singles sculls. She stayed back and followed one of the races of the regatta so far when the young Dane, Trine Hansen, beat Silken Laumann, supreme in Europe this summer, by producing a thrilling third 500m burst. Batten finished in fourth place behind all the action but ahead of the Finn Laila Finska Bezerra, who had been two places behind her last year. In this cloying humidity she was possibly wise not to race herself flat out, when she had no realistic chance of winning, but her typical tactic may have cost her dear this time.
Philippa Cross and Kate Mackenzie were originally selected as spares for the women's eight but qualified to race in the coxless pair, at Lucerne, five weeks ago. They were left soon after the start and trailed in half a minute behind the 1993 and 1994 world champions, Christine Gosse and Helene Cortin of France, but they will have another chance in the repechage.
Peter Haining, the Scottish professional who has made the lightweight sculling championship his own, stepped up a weight by qualifying, also in Lucerne, for the Olympic competition.
Here he faced a tough first heat with the former Olympic champion Thomas Lange, one of the last East German powerhouses, and last year's silver medallist, Juri Jaanson of Estonia. As ever, Haining did his own thing, chasing Lange while engaging in a private tussle with the African qualifier, Aly Ibrahim of Egypt. They sculled the whole course half a length apart to the line, where the Egyptian edged him for third place.
The men's double scull of Bobby Thatcher and James Cracknell, which finished an encouraging 10th last year, spent part of the winter apart, when Haining tried out with Cracknell, and had a summer disrupted when Thatcher was struggling with a back injury and Cracknell raced at Amsterdam with Simon Goodbrand.
Yesterday was no more straightforward. Thatcher raced with Guy Pooley, the sculling spare, while Cracknell nursed a sore throat. For a while, it looked quite an encouraging combination, with the British lying second behind the Italians at 500m, but in the second half they faded to finish fifth. Brian Armstrong, the team manager, said that Cracknell expects to be fit for the repechage on Tuesday.
n Redgrave and Pinsent are regarded here as British gentlemen and heroic sporting figures, but they must have winced when an excited American TV commentator described them as "the greatest couple to come out of Britain since Charles and Di".
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