Paralympic contenders race at Worlds on Paralympic Games countdown day

The GB Rowing Team’s Paralympic contenders will start the race for their Games places exactly as the One Year Countdown to London 2012 begins.

Reigning Paralympic champion Tom Aggar is one of seven rowers plus a cox who compete in Monday’s World Championships heats in Slovenia.

The Worlds this year are also the Paralympic qualifying regatta. Britain’s rowers know that a top eight place on the lake in Bled in this coming week will book passage for the GB boats to London with further selection trials and testing next year to decide who fills the places in those boats.

Aggar, already a Paralympic champion, is unbeaten at world level in his event – the arms and shoulders only single scull (ASM1x) – since he made his international debut in 2007.

As such he starts favourite for the title in Slovenia but is not letting the pressure of expectation here or for London affect him.

He said: “You just use the pressure in training to keep yourself working hard and keep yourself training. There is great expectation for good performances time after time and you don’t get those without putting in the training. You get out what you put in.”

Aggar races his heat on Monday with semi-finals programmed for Thursday and the final on Friday.

Britain also has a new-look and strong mixed adaptive coxed four (LTAmix4+) in Bled which is coxed by Lily van den Broecke. This features 2010 silver medallist and 2009 world champion James Roe, newcomer Pam Relph, and Roe’s returning 2009 world champion crew-mates Naomi Riches and Dave Smith.

Scotland’s Smith has come back into the sport after surgery on a life-threatening tumour in his neck which left him unable to even walk this time last year.

“I did not know whether I would ever get back into rowing but the thought of competing once more kept me going during all the rehab”, said Smith who was formerly also a top-level bobsleigher and Karate expert.

The four race heats on Monday with the semi-finals for this event scheduled on Saturday and the final on Sunday.

Britain’s has also entered the mixed adaptive double scull (TA2x) with the hope of qualifying this boat for London.

Sam Scowen, a world finalist in 2009, teams up with Army Captain Nick Beighton who has only recently taken up the sport.

They were world cup bronze medallists on their world cup debut in Munich earlier this year but know that the field will be deeper and stronger here.

Beighton is still on a steep learning curve in the sport but would clearly love to compete in London.

“We need to take it a step at a time. We have a heat here on Monday and, depending on how we do, we may go into the repechage or straight into the semi-finals before, hopefully, the final on Saturday”, he said this week. “But to represent your country at a home Paralympics would be a great achievement but also a great honour. Very, very few sportspeople get to do that”.

Scowen, who learnt to row on the lake at Dorney which will host next year’s Paralympic Games said: “As the one year to go mark comes as we start our World Championships and our bid to qualify, it provides even more of a boost”.

Scowen, who was attracted into rowing via ParalympicsGB’s Parasport website, thought at one stage she would have no chance of competing in a home Games when her previous sculling partner, James Roberts, fell foul of the sport’s changed classification rules for this boat category.

Adaptive team manager Louise Kingsley commented: “ We have had some transitions in our squad over the past year. Some strong new rowers have joined us, allowing us particularly to field a mixed adaptive double scull at the Worlds of Nick Beighton and Sam Scowen, but we have also seen the retirement of Helene Raynsford, the reigning Paralympic Champion. Tom Aggar is the World and Paralympic champion in the arms and shoulders only men’s single scull and we are competing in Bled with a revamped mixed adaptive coxed four that has been selected from a larger squad base. Our aim in Bled is to qualify the boats for London but we would hope that our focus on performance will also result in medals”.

The GB Rowing Team has as a 68-rower Siemens-sponsored squad in Bled and is fielding boats in all the Olympic classes – five women’s, three lightweight and six men’s and three of the four Paralympic classes. There are also crews contesting three of the international lightweight classes.

Britain won four golds, four silvers and a bronze in the Olympic classes at the last World Championships as well as a Paralympic class gold and silver.

“I’m careful not to make too many predictions but I can assure you we have a really ambitious team. This is as good as any team we have sent to any World Championships. The excitement we have in this team is the breadth of potential across it”, said GB Rowing Team Performance Director David Tanner.

“I’m sure we will have a really successful Worlds. As to the opposition, we anticipate that the Chinese will come on strongly. I’m expecting some nations to step up. It will be tougher in Bled I’m sure than at the last world cup in Lucerne in July”, he added.

*SIEMENS is the high performance partner of the GB Rowing Team (as such they sponsor all the Olympic and Paralympic Class boats in the senior squad and add value to the GB Rowing Teams’ Start and High Performance Programme in Clubs Schemes)