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Cardiff duo go down a desert storm in Tunis; ROWING.

Byline: Nick Hartland

WALES rowers Bethan Smith and Emma Cockcroft landed gold, silver and bronze against the cream of Africa's rowers when they launched out at the Tunisian International Regatta.

The Cardiff University duo chased home host nation winners Raja Mansour and Rhama Garbas as they covered the 500m sprint course in one minute 59.3 secs on day one.

And fellow Wales cap Pippa Christie, daughter of two-time Olympian Neil Christie, was just pipped for gold by three-quarters of a length by Mansour in the under-18 singles as she came home second in 2 mins 15.7secs.

A desert storm made the water too rough for the 2,000m races on day two on the Tunis course, but organisers quickly arranged a dry land regatta on rowing machines, with Cockroft crushing the rest of the women's field by taking gold by 13 seconds from Algeria's Basma Dries in 7 mins 12 secs.

Partner Smith took bronze in 7.31, and their combined times also gave them victory in the women's doubles. Christie was also on the gold standard, turning the tables on Tunisian Mansour to win the under-18 race by seven seconds in 7.30.

Cockcroft and Smith took class wins in all three major GB championships head of the river races on London's Boat Race course over the winter - the Pairs, Fours and Women's 8s Head - and having launched their regatta season with success in Africa, they are now targeting the British University Championships next month and the European students championships in Poland.

"To be honest, we haven't raced the double scull before, as the sweep oar pair is more our boat," said Cockcroft, who rowed for Wales in last year's Home Countries Regatta on Cardiff Bay after just a year in the sport, finishing second in the fours event.

"But we were closing them down at the end of the sprint race and fancied our chances in the championship 2,000m race before it was scrapped, which was disappointing.

"So we then did the rowing machine race and won that instead, which was hot and humid to say the least. But we've had a good winter with three titles on the Thames, and now we're hoping to win the UK university pairs title in two weeks time in Nottingham." Meanwhile, hot on the heels of Oxford and Cambridge's tussle on the Thames, it's the turn of Cardiff and Swansea Universities on the River Taff in the Welsh Boat Race today.

As well as the men's and women's eight races, there are two extra head-to-heads this time, with the freshers also taking each other on.

The crews race over a mile -and-a-half down the Taff to Cardiff Bay, starting from just below the Millennium Stadium, with racing from 1.15-3pm, followed by Wales' First Minister Rhodri Morgan making the prize presentation at Channel View Leisure Centre

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Bethan Smith and Emma Cockcroft in action for Wales at the Tunisia International Regatta
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 22, 2009
Words:494
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