KAT COPELAND and Will Fletcher remain on course to claim automatic qualification spots for next year’s Olympics after coming through their respective quarter-finals at the World Rowing Championships.

Copeland, who is the reigning Olympic champion in the lightweight double scull, teamed up with Charlotte Taylor to win a hugely competitive race and book a place in tomorrow’s semi-finals.

Having been involved in a four-way scrap with crews from Denmark, Australia and Sweden in the opening half of the race, Copeland, who is from Stokesley, timed her finish to perfection as the British boat cut through the field in the final 500m.

The GB duo eventually finished more than a second clear of Danish pair Juliane Rasmussen and Anne Lolk Thomsen as they successfully qualified for the second of tomorrow’s semi-finals.

They will guarantee a British berth at next year’s Olympics in Rio if they make the final, with the same being true of Fletcher, who is from Chester-le-Street, and his partner, Richard Chambers, in the men’s lightweight double.

The British pair made a strong start to their quarter-final, and while they were momentarily overtaken by the Italian pairing of Andrea Micheletti and Pietro Ruta, they reclaimed their lead ahead of the final 500m and eventually finished almost two seconds clear.

“We’re pleased with that,” said Fletcher. “The Italians put up a good fight, but we rowed through them in the middle of the race. The conditions were quite rough at the start.”

There was more good news for the women’s eight, which features Durham’s Jess Eddie and Richmond’s Zoe Lee, as they came through a repechage to qualify for the final.

With only five Olympic spots available in the eight, the British crew had to finish in the top two today to keep their hopes of reaching Rio alive, and they held off strong competition from Russia and Romania to win by half a second.

“That was a step on from the heat,” said crew member Louisa Reeve. “Personally, I think I could have been more focused in the final sprint, but now everyone will be in with a shout in the final. With only five qualifying places, it feels like it will be very close.”

Jamie Kirkwood is competing in the non-Olympic class lightweight single, and the Northumbrian successfully qualified for tomorrow’s semi-final as he produced a dominant quarter-final display.

Having established a two-second lead inside the opening 500m, he repelled the fast-finishing American, Nicholas Trojan, to cement his credentials as a medal hopeful.

There was not such good news for Yarm’s Tina Stiller, who is part of the women’s quadruple scull crew. They could only finish third in today’s repechage, and by missing out on the final, they cannot claim a qualifying spot for Rio.