Rowing: World Cup gold for Watkins and Grainger
ANNA Watkins got her Olympic gold medal quest off to a winning start at the World Cup in Belgrade yesterday.
Along with double sculls partner Katherine Grainger, the Longsdon rower, pictured below, claimed gold in the opening regatta of the World Cup series.
The duo's victory over strong German pair Annekatrin Thiele and Britta Oppelt maintained their unbeaten run in all competitions since coming together as a team in 2010.
The final was closer than many had expected, but Watkins and Grainger always looked in control, and the tough test they received over the final 500m can only stand them in good stead for their Olympic challenge in August.
"We were sitting out front for much of the race and watching people attacking us and responding," said Watkins, a bronze medallist from the 2008 games in Beijing.
"We put in a good 15 strokes at the end to get the win, but I think the Germans were sprinting from a long way out to get us."
Grainger added: "I really enjoyed that race. It's been such a long time since we raced competitively. We wanted a quality race here and the Germans gave us that."
Britain claimed four golds in all in Belgrade yesterday in a total haul of 12 medals.
"It's been a very good day," said performance director David Tanner.
"To win 12 medals from 12 starts is as good if not better than I would have hoped before coming here."
Perhaps most encouraging was the progress of the men's four, with Alex Gregory, Tom James, Pete Reed and Andrew Triggs-Hodge seeming to blend well as they won their final comfortably.
"We've shown glimpses of real speed in training recently but we haven't quite recreated it," said Triggs-Hodge, a former Staffs University student."
Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter, the Olympic and world champions, held off a spirited Greek challenge to take gold in the lightweight double scull.
Heather Stanning and Helen Glover won gold in the women's pair, while Britain's silver medals were won by the lightweight women's double of Sophie Hosking and Kat Copeland, Alan Campbell in the men's single, George Nash and William Satch in the men's pair, the men's eight and the lightweight men's four of Chris Bartley, Rob Williams and brothers Richard and Peter Chambers.
The women's eight and quadruple scull were Britain's bronze medallists.