Athens set for rough regatta
Posted: Monday August 2, 2004 9:20PM; Updated: Monday August 2, 2004 9:20PM
LONDON, Aug 3 (Reuters) -- The Athens rowing regatta will have to go some way to achieve anything like the scenes in Sydney when Steve Redgrave won his fifth Olympic gold and confirmed his position as one of the greatest Olympians.
On a warm morning in September 2000, Britain's 38-year-old Redgrave slumped, exhausted, over his oar after crossing the finish line while his three crew mates punched their fists in delight and clambered over each other to congratulate him.
Four years on, Redgrave's former partners Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell are aiming for gold again in the coxless four as Pinsent chases his own fourth Olympic title.
But in Athens, Pinsent and his crew face a far less predictable challenge -- the weather.
A test regatta last August at the Olympic Schinias venue was thrown into chaos when several crews capsized due to strong winds and organisers had to adjust the programme.
The winds, known locally as meltemia and traditional in August, wreaked havoc at the junior world championships at the complex northeast of Athens and forced organisers to rewrite the international rules.
The programme for racing could now begin either early in the morning or late in the evening, six-lane racing could be reduced to one-lane time trials and in a worse-case scenario the course could be cut in half to just 1,000 metres.
"We have to face the facts that Athens in August is going to be very windy," Britain's director of rowing David Tanner told Reuters. "We now have in the rules...that the distance could be reduced at an absolute last resort to not less than 1,000 metres. We have to be prepared."
Critics have pointed to a nearby wind farm on the hills overlooking the site as proof that the area was always prone to blustery conditions and not suitable for rowing.
But whatever the weather, the Athens regatta is still expected to produce some enthralling battles.
After a difficult season, Pinsent and Cracknell have opted to compete in the coxless four where they will face the Canadians and the United States.
They had started the season in the pair, following gold medals in the 2001-02 season, but a poor performance in 2003, where they were soundly beaten into fourth place by Australia's Drew Ginn and James Tomkins, forced the selectors to think again.
The move confirmed the Australian pair, members of the original 'oarsome foursome', as the favourites for that title.
In the blue riband event of the men's eight, Canada are the favourites following their two gold medals in the 2002-3 world championships but they will be pushed hard by Germany and the U.S..
The battle for the women's eight looks set to be dominated by the U.S., world champions Germany and 2003 silver medallists Romania.
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