British Rowing at the Olympics

XXVIIth Olympics
September 2000
Christopher Dodd reports from Penrith Lakes
especially for the Rowing Service
Olympic Reports Olympic Preview

The hot news from Penrith Lakes, site of the Olympic regatta nestling below the foothills of the Blue Mountains, is that Marty Aitken, the coach from Melbourne who once reigned at the University of London and is now Swiss national coach, has changed sex. According to the Olympic news service, that is, whose editors refer to Marty as "she". I can report, however, that a personal sighting on a bus reveals that Marty remains his old moustachioed self, eyes darting and uttering his customary terse one-liners.

This is a stunning course, pristine and eagerly awaiting proceedings to start in the eight-day regatta. The 14 events are in two groups of seven which leapfrog each other through heats, repechages, semi-finals and culminating in finals on September 23 and 24. Everything was tested in races for spares - some of them reluctant - on Saturday, and if Brits are looking for an omen, Debbie Flood, the Nations Cup champion, won the singles by a street. The commentator, whose name I have diplomatically forgotten, better learn hers.

There are 197 crews from 51 countries. The US has entries in all events, while Australia and Germany have 12 boats each and GB 10, split evenly between men and women.

It is fingers crossed time for the weather. September is Sydney's windiest month and statistically the worst cross winds on the lake are in this week of the year. Hence the streamlining of the boats now used by the British team, and copious plans by FISA to ameliorate unfair conditions, plans which they are reluctant to share, but could include changes to the schedule, changes to lanes, or even time trials. At the British Olympic Association press conference on Thursday Pinsent and Foster reported a glass surface at every visit since the four arrived from the British camp on Queensland's Gold Coast - whereas the Italians have been complaining of unrowable water and retiring to ergs. However, it is interesting to hear from a very experienced former Olympic champion from Australia that Penrith can be unfair even in light breezes. He favours the grandstand side, facing the camera as you see it on tv.

Apart from the blow of injury to Tim Male which has brought Tom Middleton into the lightweight double, the British team seems to be in good shape and good heart. The draw - which is now selected along Henley lines to separate those with the best track records apart - has pitched the men's eight, four and pair against their Aussie opponents in the first round, adding piquancy for us to an already spicy prospect.

The other piece of hot news is that the Aussie four has changed its seating order in the last few days, with Ben Dodwell now in the two seat in tandem with Geoff Stewart at three. It is open house on whether they are rattled or on a roll.

Matt Pinsent, voted flag carrier at the opening ceremony by the whole British team, performed in the manner in which we expect. He made it round the massive stadium majestically holding the Union flag in one hand and with straight arm, following Redgrave's example of 1992 and 1996. Perhaps a sculler would be allowed two hands under the credo started by Matt in 1992 when he bet Steve that he couldn't do it straight armed. For once in his life on Friday, Matt had no option.

Click here for the British crews' first draw of racing.