North-East rowers impress on opening day of World Championships

SAFELY THROUGH: Kat Copeland (right) and Imogen Walsh won their heat to progress to the semi-finals of the lightweight double sculls at the World Rowing Championships

SAFELY THROUGH: Kat Copeland (right) and Imogen Walsh won their heat to progress to the semi-finals of the lightweight double sculls at the World Rowing Championships

First published in Sport The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

THERE were some notable performances from North-East rowers as the British squad enjoyed a successful opening day of the World Rowing Championships in Amsterdam.

Olympic champion Kat Copeland underlined her status as one of the favourites for the women’s lightweight double as she teamed up with Imogen Walsh to win her heat and progress straight to Thursday’s semi-finals.

And there was also a strong display from the all-North-East pairing of Jamie Kirkwood and Will Fletcher, who held off a fast-finishing United States crew to win their lightweight men’s double heat and book a place in the quarter-finals.

Copeland, who is from Stokesley, is looking to join a select band of North-East sportsmen and women who have held an Olympic and world title at the same time, and yesterday’s display suggests her new-look pairing with Walsh has the potential to be every bit as successful as her relationship with her Olympic partner, Sophie Hosking.

The British duo were neck and neck with Poland in the early stages of the race, but claimed the lead before the halfway stage and held on to record a convincing victory.

Their winning time of 6:53.21 enabled them to book an automatic semi-final spot, although South Africa were faster in the previous heat and could provide stiff competition in the later rounds.

While Copeland’s Olympic pedigree makes her one of the senior members of the British team, Kirkwood, who is from Northumberland, and Fletcher, who is from Chester-le-Street, are at a much earlier stage of their international careers.

They are still learning their trade at senior level, but they held off the United States to win in 6:17.51 and will now race in the quarter-finals later in the week.

In total, there were six heat wins for British crews, with the most impressive performances coming from the Olympic champion women’s pair of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, and the men’s four of Alex Gregory, Mohamed Sbihi, George Nash and Andrew Triggs-Hodge, all of whom are Olympic medallists.

“From my seat in the boat, that felt great,” said Gregory. “From our perspective, the race was won fairly easily so we could enjoy it and there is more juice in the legs to come yet.”

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