James Ready to Emulate Cooke with Olympic Gold; Beijing 2008

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Byline: Nick Hartland in Beijing

WELSH rower Tom James has vowed to give it everything to follow Nicole Cooke onto the top of the Olympic podium after his GB flagship four powered into Saturday's final in the fastest qualifying time.

"It's brilliant that Nicole has won the first Olympic gold medal for Wales in years," said the Cardiff-born world medallist after coming home with three-quarters of a length to spare on second-placed Australia.

"As a patriotic Welshman, it was fantastic to see Nicole land gold.

"Because we haven't got too many gold medals in the national trophy cabinet.

"It was a real boost to see a Welsh athlete on the podium so early in the Games, a fantastic performance, and I really hope I can land another gold for Wales on Saturday."

Bow man James joined fellow Welshman TomLucy and his GB eight in the Olympic finals with a devastating display of controlled power that will make them favourites to follow rowing giants Steve Redgrave and Matt Pinsent to golden glory.

But he said the GB tradition of ruling the rowing waves wasn't weighing his crew down.

"To be honest, Steve and Matt and all that, that's history, we shouldn't let that bother us," he said. "This is a new four, racing different crews and it's up to us to make our own history.

"I've thought we've always had a chance of winning the gold, but you have to get to the final first and that's not easy.

"Well we're there now, so that chance is a realistic opportunity, but there's still everything to do to make it happen."

World champions New Zealand crashed out in fourth as James, Athens Olympic champion Steve Williams, Peter Reed and Andy Hodge came home 1.4 seconds quicker than the second semi-final, where big threats Holland and Italy also failed to make the medal race.

"We knew from our previous races that we had a chance of winning the semi," added the Wrexham-based 24 year-old.

"What we wanted to have was a good race, stick to our race plan and execute it well. We ticked those boxes and we're in the final.

"We knew it was going to be tight at every marker and we are really pleased to have got through like we did."

GB were second early on as France threw everything into a fast first half to try and grab a top-three qualifying slot.

But they were never more than a third of a length down, and looking strong they eased through to hit the front with 800m to race.

Big threats Australia and New Zealand were struggling to stay with the pace in fifth and fourth as GB moved through the last quarter mark with a third of a length lead on the French, and the Americans just holding an overlap in third. …