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Pearson battles into quarter-finals

Calm after the storm: Pearson rests on her oars after competing in the women’s single scull heat in Rio de Janeiro (Photograph by Andre Penner/AP)

Shelley Pearson said the choppy waters of Lagoa Rodrigo de Freita were the worst conditions she has experienced after her battling third-place finish in the women’s single sculls on Saturday.

The 25-year-old opened Bermuda’s contribution to the Rio Games in the final heat to complete the 2,000 metres race in 8min 22.15sec.

Although good enough for only third, which carries qualification to the quarter-finals tomorrow, Pearson’s time was the sixth fastest of the 32 scullers in the competition and might have won all but two of the six heats.

“They were very challenging conditions, possibly the worst I have ever rowed in, but I was happy with the final result,” Pearson said. “Given the conditions it’s a bit hard to read too much into my performance but I’m definitely excited about Tuesday.”

The Bermudian, who sprang to local notoriety last year by appearing for Oxford in the first Women’s Boat Race to be contested on the Thames, was last of five after the opening 500 metres.

However, she battled back past the fast-starting rower from Trinidad & Tobago, Felice Chow, and into second place before losing an exciting tussle with Ekaterina Karsten, of Belarus, who clocked 8:21.21.

“The winds were quite bad and the waves were crashing over everybody and for me it was really just about staying calm and working my way through,” Pearson said.

“I knew it would get a bit calmer in the last 500 [metres] so I stayed cool, waited it out, and went in the last 500 to get to the place that I wanted to be.”

Emma Twigg, a medal favourite from New Zealand, won the heat in an impressive 8:17.02, but the fastest of the lot was Kenia Lechuga Alanis, of Mexico, who cut through the Lagao waters in 8:11.44 in heat one

Pearson is the first Bermudian Olympic rower since Jim Butterfield competed at the Munich Games in 1972.

In her final race prior to the Olympics she placed third at the World Rowing Cup III in Poznan, Poland, in June, where she faced many of her Olympic competitors for the first time.

Pearson at least managed to finish her heat, which is more than can be said for yesterday’s competitors.

High winds gusting across the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon forced organisers to call off the second day of the regatta, a decision welcomed by teams who had seen three boats capsize over two days as waves washed over them.

Organisers said they hoped to be back on schedule by the end of tomorrow.

The decision to call off yesterday’s races followed difficult conditions in the opening programme on Saturday, with some rowers complaining that the races should have been postponed then. One boat tipped over and several others were nearly swamped.

Preliminary forecasts had been fairly good for yesterday but every new overnight forecast got worse.

“We all showed up this morning to see very, very difficult conditions,” Matt Smith, the World Rowing Federation’s (Fisa) executive director, said.

Two boats capsized in early practice sessions as winds blowing down from the mountains overlooking the lagoon whipped up the water. By mid-morning, white waves were rippling across the lake. Palm trees on the shore were bending and flags at the stadium flapped wildly.

The elements damaged the buoy system marking the lanes, forcing two hour-long delays to the start, then it became clear that racing would be impossible. Fisa had rejected criticism of its decision to go ahead with Saturday’s races, saying the conditions were the same for all the rowers.

Yesterday’s postponement had officials scrabbling to put together a new schedule. Smith said the forecasts showed today would be calmer and he hoped the regatta would be back on track by the end of tomorrow.

“We are old and experienced at this. We have a lot of tricks up our sleeve — even two rounds on one day. I think we can finish at 12 on Saturday,” he said.

David Tanner, the British team leader said he absolutely supported the decision.

“We definitely, definitely shouldn’t be racing in these conditions. Well done, Fisa,” he said.

Tanner said the winds were blowing right across the course during practice.

“It was lifting boats onto the waves and some were on the buoys,” he said.

Fisa had rejected criticism of its decision to go ahead with Saturday’s races, saying the conditions were the same for all the rowers.