KAT COPELAND made a dream return to the international arena as she cruised through to the semi-finals of the European Rowing Championships in Belgrade.

Competing with her new partner, Imogen Walsh, in the lightweight double, Olympic champion Copeland, who is from Stokesley, successfully booked a place in tomorrow’s semi-final.

Having taken a year off from competitive rowing in the wake of her Olympic success, Copeland admitted to pre-race nerves as she took to the water this morning.

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But the 23-year-old need not have worried as she paced her heat to perfection alongside Walsh, who was a world finalist in Copeland’s absence last year.

Trailing to the Netherlands in the early stages of today’s race, the British pair asserted their superiority in the second half of the contest and eventually won in 6:59.12.

“I am glad to get it over with really, to be honest,” said Copeland. “I was a bit nervous. It wasn’t really a battle with the Netherlands, we wanted to relax at that point and let our skill pull us through.”

Walsh added: “It’s exciting for me to be racing with Kat because of her experience in this boat class. Today, we wanted to get into our rhythm and we had a really good middle section of the race.”

Durham’s Jess Eddie and Richmond’s Zoe Lee are part of a new-look women’s eight that progressed straight through to Sunday’s final after posting an impressive heat performance this morning.

The British crew were tussling with the Netherlands throughout their race, but were narrowly ahead at all the interim markers and eventually won in 6:10.43.

The eight will be joined in Sunday’s finals by the women’s quad, which includes Yarm’s Tina Stiller rowing with Beth Rodford, Lucinda Gooderham and Vicky Meyer-Laker.

The quad were last in the early phases of the race, but grinded their way through the field to pip the Netherlands in the final 200m and progress behind Poland in second place.

Durham’s Nathaniel Reilly-O’Donnell is rowing with Alan Sinclair in the men’s pair, and the duo moved into tomorrow’s semi-finals as they finished third in their heat. They retained their cool in a fiercely-contested latter stage of the race to claim a place in the top three.

The all-North-East lightweight men’s double scull of Northumberland’s Jamie Kirkwood and Chester-le-Street’s Will Fletcher needed a repechage to make the semi-finals, but after a below-par morning performance, they improved markedly in the afternoon to progress.