Natasha puts homework aside to go for gold

Norfolk's Natasha Howard has the best excuse yet for missing her homework - she's going for gold in Beijing. The 27-year old West Runton rower is part of Britain's most successful women's eight boat ever.

Norfolk's Natasha Howard has the best excuse yet for missing her homework - she's going for gold in Beijing.

The 27-year old West Runton rower is part of Britain's most successful women's eight boat ever.

The crew, who won bronze at last year's World Championships in Munich, are a tight-knit bunch, who finish each other's sentences while laughing in private at jokes.

Earlier this year - just for team-building - they enrolled on a City & Guilds Progression Course in Motor Vehicle Servicing & Repair at a college near their London training base.


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There was just one problem - their final assignment was due in the day they commence their medal bid in Beijing.

"I think the tutors will understand," said Howard, the only East Anglian representative in Britain's 43-strong rowing squad.

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"Originally it was an 18-week course but it's going to take nearer to ten months to finish. We got an educational grant from UK Sport and we decided to do something together.

"We talked about French or Italian lessons but we decided that a mechanics course would be more fun and more useful."

Familiarity might breed contempt but it has certainly helped the medal hopes of Britain's women's eight.

The core of the team was formed for the 2005 World Championships in Japan and has grown together ever since - at world level they've finished eighth, fifth and third in the last three years.

"It's a long-haul but all the effort is worth it now," adds Howard.

"The long days and the endless training are all about what we can do here. The hardest thing is the girls we've left behind, the ones that didn't make it. We've all become so close and this is for them as much as us."

Conditions at Shunyi, venue for Olympic rowing conditions, have ranged from bright sunshine to overcast smog in the past seven days. But one constant remains - searing heat.

"It's not ideal but we've had a good period here to acclimatise," added Howard. "The time we spent on camp in Japan has really helped prepare us for the conditions."

Howard only started rowing when she studied for an ecology degree at the University of East Anglia ten years ago.

And whatever happens in the next fortnight, she acknowledges she'll forever be in debt to Alan Wells, her first ever head coach.

"He's a big influence on me and I wouldn't be here without him," she said. "When I won the World Championship bronze last year I invited him out to lunch as a thank you. I hope to have another celebration soon.

"I try to get back to Norwich whenever I can, it's great that all my friends and family will be able to watch me and I'll imagine their support on the start line.

My parents get really nervous when I race, especially my mother - she'll be screaming at the TV, not be able to watch, and she'll run up and down the stairs and then say that it was her running around that helped!"

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