Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Two world records set by British rowers

Two world-best times were set by British athletes during the opening day of the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games rowing event on Tuesday.

Amid heavy rain and strong gust, 2006 world champion Helene Raynsford and compatriot Tom Aggar, the reigning world champion, set the new world marks in winning their heats of the women's and men's single sculls, both advancing directly to Thursday's finals.

As if sensing the historical significance of the occasion, Raynsford achieved her time of 5 minutes 38.44 seconds in the very first race of the inaugural Paralympic Games rowing regatta, incredibly slashing almost 20 seconds off the old mark .

After a characteristically fast start she established a boatlength lead by the 300m mark over Luidmila Vauchok from Belarus. Maintaining a low but powerful stroke rate, she pushed her lead out to two lengths by the halfway point of the 1000m journey.

She was never really threatened and crossed the line comfortably ahead of Vauchok and the rest of the field to record a memorable two and a half length win.

"It was a bit of head-wind, but if I apply myself diligently, I expect to get those times," said Raynsford. "I am sure everyone will want gold as much as I do. I will give 110 per cent, but you can't take anything for granted."

The second heat saw Ukraine's Svitlana Kupriianova get the best of the start to lead the field through the 250m mark. However, it was shortly after that point that the 2007 U.S. national champion Laura Schwanger made what was to become a race-winning move.

Lifting her rating by two strokes per minute, she overtook the early pacesetter and established a boatlength lead by the 500m mark. With 350m to go her advantage had stretched to over two lengths over the Ukrainian and a fast-finishing Zhang Jinhong of China.

Reigning world champion and former world-best time holder Claudia Santos from Brazil had a disappointing row by her standards, finishing almost 13 seconds behind the winner.

In the first heat of the men's single sculls, Ukraine's Oleksandr Petrenko secured his berth in Thursday's finals with an all-the-way win over China's Tan Yeleng and Italy's Simone Miramonti.

He'll be joined by world champion Tom Aggar who blitzed the second heat field to post a 5:12.25 win over Eli Nawi from Israel, bettering his own previous world-best time of 5:13.13.

To a noisy home crowd in the Shunyi Rowing and Canoeing Park, the Chinese rowers made a solid start as two teams earned direct entry to the finals in the remaining two team events.

Zhou Yangjing and Shan Zilong finished first in the opening heat of the mixed double sculls, clocking 4:14.67.

"It was just like our normal training. But it's raining, it's very slippery. We had to use a lot of strength to hold oars and the wind is also very strong which affected our breath," said Zhou.

"I am very grateful for this good chance to compete in the Paralympics and we are very satisfied to get into the top six. We started this sport very late, so we don't have big expectations."

Shand and Zhou won by a boatlength and a half and will meet strong challenge from Heat 2 winners, the powerful Brazilian combination of Josiane Lima and Elton Santana in Thursday's final.

The Brazilians, winning at 4:18.45, were untroubled in taking their heat over Italian and British teams.

The first heat of the mixed coxed four produced the most exciting race of the day with Italy proving too good for the more fancied Britain crew.

The Italians were pushed all the way, before winning their coveted berth in finals by 2.22 seconds. The United States were third with 2.98 seconds behind Italy.

If Italy produced the excitement, China provided the style in Heat 2, the final race of the day.

The Li Ming-stroked combination rowed a technically perfect race to beat pre-regatta favorites Germany and Brazil.

All crews that did not advance directly to the finals will appear in Wednesday's repechages.

Source: Xinhua

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