James launches Olympic bid
Nick Hartland on 26/03/2012
Olympic champion Tom James launches out on the London 2012 lake for the Great Britain trials this month knowing that a repeat of last year's top two finish will almost certainly see him reunited in the British coxless four with Beijing gold medal crewmates Peter Reed and Andy Hodge.
And another Welsh rower has come home with a massive global title, creating a small piece of history in the process.
James has overcome serious problems to get his shot at the Olympics but, despite winning the world title in the coxless four in Bled last September with Alex Gregory, Matt Langridge and Ric Egington, national coach Jurgen Grobler is set to break up the boat to give his top two rowers - Reed and Hodge - the best chance of gold in London.
Since Beijing, they have become serial silver medallists in the pair behind New Zealand's all-conquering duo, and that's not good enough for Grobler, who has coached crews to gold at every Olympics since 1972, with the exception of Los Angeles where East Germany boycotted the event.
Welshman James will be delighted to be back on board with his China crewmates to defend the Olympic title at Dorney Lake, with Alex Gregory probably the fourth man in place of retired Athens and Beijing champion Steve Williams.
But it's not been all plain sailing for James, who missed the 2010 season after a back operation and was shocked to learn after Christmas that he has a heart condition.
The gold medallist said the condition, which causes an abnormal heart rhythm, is under control after treatment.
"It was a bit of a shock to hear you have got a heart issue when you're 27 and leading a healthy lifestyle," said James.
The Wrexham rower thought he had 'picked up a bug' over Christmas which led to a high heart rate, so team doctors put him through a series of tests and he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation which, he says, was successfully treated with medication.
"Hopefully, it is temporary. It is not going to hold me back in the Olympics," said James, who trains three times a day, with only one day off each month. "We still have a way to go before selection. It is always going to be tough, but I feel fit and came back pretty quickly."
James was only the second Welsh rower to win a world title, when he won last year in Slovenia, with his former King's Chester School crewmate Chris Bartley the first just ten months' earlier in New Zealand, when his GB lightweight won gold.
Last year, after an injury-hit summer for Wrexham-born Bartley, his crew had to settle for bronze, but if he can keep his place on board the boat this summer, they will be one of the main challengers on home water in July in the most tightly contested sweep oar event, with all rowers averaging 72kg or under.
Vicky Thornley, from Holt, near Wrexham, stroked the GB women's eight to bronze in Bled, just three years after taking up the sport, when Olympic legend Steve Redgrave talent spotted the six-foot four-inch former showjumper as a potential international rower.
And she will also be pushing to hold her seat at the trials for the World Cup build up to the Games.
Meanwhile, Sophie Slaney became only the second ever winner of the biggest women's race in the world - the Women's 8s Head over the reverse Boat Race course this month.
Rebecca Rowe won the 4.25 mile time-trial in 2007 in a GB star crew containing the likes of triple Olympic medallist Katherine Grainger, but with the top internationals on training camp ahead of London 2012, it was a truly club event this year, with former GB junior cap Slaney's Thames RC boat heading the 299-boat field by six seconds from Swiss outfit Zurich in 20 minutes 10 seconds.
Cardiff University produced their best ever performance to win the Intermediate 3 class by six seconds from London University in 21.10, finishing 23rd overall.
Before the race, involving 2,691 competitors, Slaney gave a pep talk to the crew from her former school Haberdashers' Monmouth, dressed in her old school kit, and it inspired the U16 outfit to finish 3rd out of 40 in the novice academic class and 132nd overall in 22.58.
* Cardiff University's 8 set the benchmark time at the annual Cardiff Head of the Taff from the Millennium Stadium to Cardiff Bay, but they weren't the quickest on paper.
That honour went to Monmouth RC's British veteran championship medallists, who benefitted from a 37-second handicap by being over 50s, to finish eight seconds up in 11 minutes 22 seconds.
The vets real time of 11.59 still pipped Monmouth School's first eight by one second in the first division, but the juniors, containing several Welsh junior caps, went quicker the second time down, finishing in 11.46.
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