By STEVE DOUGLAS, Associated Press
WINDSOR, England (AP) — Australia's rowers were celebrating a victory Tuesday over their British rivals at Dorney Lake — five days before the Olympic regatta even begins.
The Australian team was unhappy that Britain's powerhouse squad has access to the course by taking a chartered boat through a priority waterway on the River Thames, slashing travel times from its nearby accommodation.
The Aussies, however, have managed to hire a 32-bed house 700 meters from the venue, where their top rowers will lodge until the end of the regatta on Aug. 4.
It means they can beat traffic jams by not having to make a journey of up to an hour by bus from the rowing village. And that could be the difference between winning gold or silver, triple Olympic gold-medallist Drew Ginn said.
"It can give you the right sort of headspace," Australia's standout rower said.
"From our perspective, we can just chill out there and it can reduce travel times."
Five crews are staying in what the Australia squad is calling its "halfway house" — the men's four (containing Ginn), men's quadruple sculls, men's lightweight four, men's double sculls and women's double sculls.
"We stepped back from the whole situation and said, 'We don't care what the British are doing,'" said Andrew Matheson, Rowing Australia's high performance director. "We have to make sure our athletes have what they need to do the job.
"We feel lucky we've got the venue on the site that we have ... How other people see it, we don't care."
The fierce sporting rivalry between Britain and Australia could especially manifest itself in rowing at the London Olympics, with the countries arguably having the two strongest squads of the 58 nations competing on Dorney Lake, which is around 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of London.
That rivalry could come to a head in the men's four.
The gold medal in the event has gone to either Australia or Britain at the past four Olympics and they are the flagship boats of both countries.
Britain is the reigning world and Olympic champion but its recent dominance was ended by Australia in Munich, at the last of three World Cup regattas held over the summer.
Continuing the combative nature of Australia's first and only pre-Olympic media conference, Ginn said his boat had dealt Britain a psychological blow in Germany.
"We have had a pretty public and clear strategy — we are going to turn it into a drag race. And if they are going to win gold, they are going to have to row like their lives depended on it," Ginn said.
"We've made it (the strategy) public purely for the fact it scares the hell out of them. And so we'll keep doing that."
Organizers said "the majority" of the competing rowing nations took to the 2,000-meter stretch of water on Dorney Lake for practice on Tuesday.
In gloriously sunny weather, the course looked in pristine condition — a world away from last week when heavy rain waterlogged parts of the venue and sparked fears that the Olympic regatta could be seriously affected.
Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London organizing committee, said last week that emergency measures were being taken, including putting down tracks and temporary surfaces, and that the eight-day regatta could even be stretched to a ninth.
However, Cora Zillich, venue media manager for Dorney Lake, said everything was now going to plan, especially with the good weather set to last for the rest of the week.
"Everyone knows that the weather in the lead-up has been challenging but now we are seeing the British summer and the conditions are really good," Zillich told The Associated Press.
"We laid down trackway and surfaces such as wood chips for spectators so we are ready if it should rain heavily again. The field of play is in great condition ... and the feedback on the venue has been very positive."
New Zealand single sculler Mahe Drysdale is one of those mightily impressed.
"You walk around the venue — it's in pristine shape," the five-time world champion said. "It looks superb and I don't think there are any issues at all."
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