By Kate Holton
LONDON (Reuters) - The British rowing pair of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning set a Games record in their heat on Saturday to confirm their status as favorites to win Britain's first Olympic gold medal for a women's crew.
British women rowers have won a string of silver and bronze medals at the last two Olympics but are still waiting to claim their first gold, with Glover and Stanning in prime position after they won three out of three international races this year.
The performance follows a stunning few years for the pair and reflects the strength of the British system, with Glover only starting to row four years ago after being picked out as someone with potential for her 178 cm height.
Stanning, at 181 cm, started two years before that.
On Saturday, they opened the Olympic regatta at Dorney Lake under clear blue skies and on mill-pond water with a slight tail wind, leading from the start with an effortless, long style which allowed them to control the race until the end.
Despite appearing to be racing quite comfortably, they beat the previous Olympic record of seven minutes and one second set in 1996 with their time of 6:57, perhaps also helped by the warm water underneath.
The United States also pipped the old record to finish second and they will both go straight through to the final on Wednesday.
"It was a solid performance," said Stanning after coming off the water. "We were controlled in our boat. This was the biggest crowd ever, it was a fantastic lovely atmosphere (but) we were very much in our boat.
"We had trained with our coach shouting through a megaphone and all the staff making noises around us."
The result puts the British pair in a good position for the final, after Australia won the second heat, five seconds ahead of New Zealand but in a slower time than the British boat by some four seconds.
While the sight of a British women's crew receiving an Olympic gold medal will be celebrated throughout the British team, a victory could be a slight blow to the country's most successful female rower, 36-year-old Katherine Grainger who has won three Olympic silver medals at three Games.
However, she is favorite to win gold in the women's double scull in its final on Friday.
Grainger and her partner Anna Watkins can also expect to receive the same level of boisterous support that the other British crews enjoyed on Saturday from the highly partisan crowd of 30,000 sat in grandstands and along the course in Eton.
(Editing by Matt Falloon)
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