Sunday 17th November 2002, Birmingham Indoor Arena
This year sees one of the strongest fields ever turning up at the British Indoor Champs, including three international record holders and a quartet of Britons who hold a total of thirteen world and Olympic golds between them. Seven of those belong to James Cracknell, the 2000 BIRC champion, who lost out by a mere 0.1 of a second to pairs partner Matthew Pinsent last year. This time Pinsent has declined the invitation, and since the Indoor competition is not a GB squad selection event this year, Pinsent has been left in peace to sort his life out after a recent return from honeymoon.
Joining Cracknell in the front row is the Wingfields and Four's Head champion sculler Ian Lawson, plus the British coxless four of Josh West, Toby Garbett, Steve Williams and Rick Dunn, with plenty to prove after their agonisingly narrow defeat by Germany in September's world final in Seville. The Germans aren't joining the party this time, but ranked against the home talent is a clutch of international stars, so bring your autograph books along.
From the USA come Jamie Schroder, world U23 eights champion this year, and Dave Simon, the US record-holder and from America's Sydney Olympic eight. It's no mean feat to hang onto the US ergometer record, in that land of serious pullers, but he is also up against Tonu Edrekson, the Estonian record-holder, and Mario Palmisano, Italy's strongest indoor rower. The last time Palmisano visited the BIRC's, in 2000, he went head to head with James Cracknell, before burning out and missing even a minor medal as the Oxford and Cambridge student strongmen swept past him in the second half of the race. Count on him being ready for the challenge this time, now that he knows what to expect.
Palmisano is also joined by four of Italy's top oarsmen, Leonardo Raffaello from the 2002 bronze medal coxless four, and Massimo Cascone, Lorenzo Porzio and Eduardo Verzotti from the coxed boat which came fourth. Swiss sculler Andre Vonarburg is also entered: this is the man who beat legend Xeno Mueller at the Swiss championships, and powered through Peter Wells to take gold at the World University Rowing Champs earlier this summer.
Last but far from least are Niksa and Sinisa Skelin, the Croatian brothers who keep putting themselves into the British papers, whenever they challenge Pinsent and Cracknell in the pair. This year they mounted a serious attack in Hazewinkel, and nearly pushed GBR into third during that disastrous Lucerne final where Australia's Ginn and Tomkins swept the Brits away. The resulting points were enough to take the Skelins to Seville as World Cup champions, and although they finished third behind GBR and South Africa in the final, their power and determination can never be underrated. They will love the chance to try and rumble Cracknell on his home ground.
Adding to all this international class is a huge clutch of British indoor rowers, many of whom have never set oar on water. It's the great chance for those with power and long limbs to set themselves up against the lake champions, and with the growing popularity of indoor rowing, clubs up and down the country will be making the most of it. The strongest men and women compete in two different races, though: bear in mind that anyone under 23 will be eligible for the separate class, and so with dozens of Oxford, Cambridge, UL, Imperial and other students fighting it out, that category will also be highly competitive.