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Rowers make fair Ashes fight
Jim Morton
21:07 AEST Tue Jul 24 2012

Australia's rowing team have enjoyed a major pre-Olympic boost in their "Ashes" battle with the powerful home nation.

In what they see has now created a fair fight, Rowing Australia (RA) has secured a half-way house for its best oarsmen and women next to the Eton Dorney course.

Rival nations had been incensed by preferential treatment Great Britain would receive during the eight-day London Games regatta through special access to Lake Dorney.

Team GB had made the most of their home-ground advantage by slashing travel time to the venue, an hour west of London in Buckinghamshire, through special priority waterway access.

Instead of staying at the Royal Holloway rowing village and battling clogged motorways, the Brits are stationed near the River Thames and will take a specially-chartered boat to be dropped off at the venue.

The route was expected to cut travel time in half, prompting RA to complain the home nation had bent the rules towards the point of cheating.

But after months of searching, they have secured the 32-bed Eton Dorney Centre, located just 700m outside the front gate of the regatta centre.

Australian high-performance director Andrew Matheson said Australia's priority crews would stay at the residential day-house and walk or cycle just a few minutes to the venue, levelling the playing field.

"I think (Team GB) had used their home-town advantage as well as they can and that's really good for them," Matheson said.

"We've shepherded away from worrying about them now and working on what our team needs and we've got a good set-up."

Australia, Germany, US and Dutch officials had all met to protest the situation to rowing governing body FISA in May after fearing they may face up to an hour of travel time.

Asked whether it was now a fair fight against the Brits, Matheson said: "I reckon so".

There will be immense rivalry between the Ashes rivals in all sports in London, but few more than rowing.

Britain pipped Australia for top rowing nation honours at the Beijing Olympics as well as last year's world championships in Slovenia, and have 10 legitimate medal contending boats.

The biggest battle will be in the men's four where triple Olympic champion Drew Ginn's new-model Oarsome Foursome will attempt to end the hosts' 12-year domination of the event.

The transport issue is also sensitive as Ginn's Beijing Olympic campaign was endangered by a back flare-up after travelling 50 minutes to the Shunyi venue on an official athletes' bus.

Like the late development in London, RA had managed to find nearby accommodation for Ginn and crewmate Duncan Free next to the Beijing course before winning gold in the men's pair.

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