Putney-based rowers face Belgrade test

Bill Lucas and Sophie Hosking, both from Putney-based London Rowing Club, face new challenges as they begin the Olympic rowing season in Serbia this weekend.

Lucas, 24, and his partner Sam Townsend ousted Olympic bronze medallist Matthew Wells in selection for the men’s double scull for the first of three World Cup regattas, which starts in Belgrade on Friday.

And Hosking, 26, who won a world bronze last year in the women’s lightweight double, has a new partner in World Under-23 champion Katherine Copeland. Her former partner Hester Goodsell retired this week after failing to retain her place.

Both crews are likely to go on to the Olympics, although they must prove their speed during the World Cup series to be sure of London 2012 selection in the first week of June.

Lucas, who lives in Roehampton, and Townsend came through GB Rowing’s “Start” talent identification programme together, and both rowed at Reading University.

They have been part of the quadruple scull over the last three years but their inclusion in GB’s second-ranked sculling boat – behind single sculler Allan Campbell – shows the selectors feel they have a good chance of an Olympic medal.

“It’s new in one respect but Sam and I have pretty much grown up together. When I first turned up at Reading Uni, it was a boat that worked then and it continues to,” said Lucas, who is 6ft 6in tall.

“We raced in a World Cup in 2010 and had quite a lot of speed there. Individually we’ve added a lot; the boat feels edgier, livelier and stronger than it did back then so we’ve got every reason to be confident.

“We just want to make ourselves as quick as possible and if we do that I think we could be right at the top of the field.”

World champions New Zealand will not join the series until later in the summer, but Germany’s 2009 champions Stephan Krueger and Eric Knittel and three-time world double sculls medallists Cedric Berrest and Julien Bahain of France will provide stiff opposition.

In the lightweight doubles, though, Hosking and Copeland will get a chance straight away to assess their speed as they face a field that includes world champions Christina Giazitzidou and Alexandra Tsiavou of Greece.

Lightweight women’s crews must weigh an average of 57kg (8st 13.7lb) with a maximum of 59kg.

“It’s up to Kat and I to prove our speed,” said Hosking, whose father was a world lightweight champion in 1980.

“It’s an incredibly exciting project. We haven’t got loads of time but I think we’ve got enough time.

“Kat’s got a huge amount of potential. Obviously we’ve got to prove ourselves on the world stage and I think that’s a really exciting prospect.”

London RC has three other members in action over the weekend. Phelan Hill is cox of the men’s eight, Rob Williams is part of the lightweight men’s four and Imogen Walsh makes her World Cup debut in GB’s second lightweight double.

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