Olympic champions featured in three of the six title-winning crews at the GB Rowing Team Senior Trials at Caversham today in a finals racing session full of exciting finishes.
The much awaited contest between single scullers Charles Cousins and Alan Campbell, though, fell flat when Campbell was disqualified for attracting two yellow cards - one for arriving late at the start and the second for a false start.
Campbell was allowed to race but Agecroft's Graeme Thomas was the surprise package with an explosive start before leading the race until the final 250m when Cousins, of Leander, surged through. That left Tideway Sculler Campbell in third but last on the score sheet with Peter Lambert elevated to third.
"It was a tough and long race because of the headwind but I'm really pleased with it", said Cousins.
2012 gold medallist Alex Gregory and his men's pair partner Moe Sbihi were also quick off the start in their final and seemed set for comfortable victory until Molesey's Andrew Triggs Hodge, also a 2012 winner, and George Nash edged back to gain an overlap with 500m to go.
For a few seconds, with 250m to go, the Hodge-Nash bow ball seemed to move ahead before Gregory and Sbihi - a Leander-Molesey combination - responded to win. Alan Sinclair and Nathaniel Reilly O'Donnell concluded a solid day of racing to take third.
Sbihi said: "We actually had a really good start and we were leading the field, then coming into the last kilometre 'Hodgey' and George really dug deep.
"I was always fairly confident that we would get it, and then they actually started to come back on us really sharp and I think they even took the lead, from my perception anyway. That's when it was just head down, "Greggers" made the call and we went for it. It was the killer blow".
Peter Reed, the third men's 2012 champion on the race-card today, was ruled out of the final with bronchial problems and his seat was taken by Mat Tarrant, of Oxford Brookes, who finished fifth with Reed's partner Will Satch.
Due to adverse predicted weather conditions tomorrow the rowers all had to race three times today in quick succession.
"We should congratulate all the rowers on such strong performances today and for stepping up to race three times in difficult conditions", said Sir David Tanner, the GB Rowing Team Performance Director.
"They produced some great racing and we are now in a good place for the next few weeks as we look at refining selections for the European Championships", he added.
New names emerged to take honours in the lightweight men's single scull. Jamie Kirkwood, of Leander, seemed to cruise to victory in a strong second-half performance in lane one. Behind him Will Fletcher battled impressively to beat Peter Chambers by an eventually large margin after a close first half.
Kirkwood said: "I'm over the moon to have won. For me it was really important to do well here and to impress the coaches and I'm pleased all the hard work has paid off. I thought a win here might be possible after the [pre-event] training camp in Italy. Things have been going pretty well these last few months".
Kat Copeland, the 2012 lightweight women's double scull champion, returned to winning ways in the lightweight women's single scull event here, having missed the post-Olympic season entirely at international level. She moved out to an early lead over Imogen Walsh in today's lightweight women's single final. Walsh, in turn, eased out to a comfortable margin to take second ahead of Putney Town's Charlotte Taylor after a tight first 500m.
Copeland said: "It's pretty windy today and it's pretty slow but it was exciting, I really enjoyed it. I think what's really exciting for me is that there's a group of really good girls at the top which means that we're going to have a really strong double, which is what matters".
Vicky Thornley, the former model and skilled show-jumper who came into the sport through "Start" and, like Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, learnt to row at the University of Bath, proved her continuing maturity in this sport.
The Leander Club member won the open women's single scull title by some distance - almost seven seconds ahead of Frances Houghton. Beth Rodford, of Gloucester RC, was third putting in a strong performance form an unfavoured lane. Houghton's 2013 women's double scull partner, Vicky Meyer Laker, was fourth.
Thornley said: "I thought I would have a bit more of a race on my hands. I went into it confident in my ability and how I was going, but I was quite surprised at the distance I won by so I'm really pleased with it".
Helen Glover and Heather Stanning might have resumed their 2012 Olympic gold-medal winning partnership for the first time here since those London Games but they did not have it all their own way in the women's pair final.
They led early and seemed to have stretched out to an unassailable lead. Polly Swann, 2013 World Champion with Glover, and Olympian Jess Eddie obviously had a different view as they dug deep and cut back the margin with 250m to go. At the end the verdict went to the Cornish-Scottish combination but it was not as comfortable as they might have wished.
"It was really brilliant to be back racing with Helen, it feels like I'm in old shoes again", said Stanning.
Glover commented on the selection decisions ahead of next month's European Championships in Belgrade. She said: "All we can do is win the Trials and I'm sure the coaches will be talking, it's in their hands, which is a nice feeling as you never want to be in a position choosing between friends".=============================================