Olympian Tom James back in GB rowing squad

By Martin GoughBBC Sport

Olympic champion Tom James returns to the Great Britain squadexternal-link for the first time since the 2008 Games in Beijing when the 2011 season opens this month.

The 27-year-old Welshman, who took a year off after his China success and then suffered a back problem last season, is back in the coxless four.

Despite an injury-hit winter, Mark Hunter retains his lightweight double scull place, alongside Zac Purchaseexternal-link.

Veteran Greg Searle remains in the eight a year into his return to racing.

"It's been absolutely fantastic," said James. "I've had some of my best rowing ever in the last two months.

"Even if I am not there physically, that will come with a good winter's training. Everything is going really well for me.

"Mentally, I feel pretty fresh compared to some of the guys who have been in the squad for two-and-half or three years."

World champions Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins continue in their double scull, which was voted world women's crew of the year in 2010.

Grainger is bidding to end a run of three successive Olympic silver medals by winning gold at London 2012 - which would be a first for GB's women.

James will race in Munich from 27-29 May, at the first of three World Cup events this season, alongside Ric Egington, Matt Langridge and Alex Gregory, who won world gold together in 2009 but missed out last season.

Alex Partridge, who was part of last year's four, returns to the men's eight in which he won Olympic silver in 2008.

Pete Reed and Andy Hodge
Reed and Hodge will open their third successive season in the coxless pair

Phelan Hill has won the battle of the four potential coxes - including 2000 Olympic champion Rowley Douglas and 2008 silver medallist Acer Nethercott - to retain his seat in the eight.

But there is no place in the eight for Oxford University's Boat Race winner Constantine Louloudis, despite his fourth-place finish - with Cambridge's George Nash - in last month's public trials.

"It's great that we are taking such a strong team to Munich. The World Cup circuit is a prize in itself but it also gives us vital feedback on how the team has progressed over the winter," said GB performance director David Tanner.

GB Rowing confirmed last week that Andy Hodge and Pete Reed - James's team-mates in the four in Beijing alongside Steve Williams - will open their third successive season in the coxless pair.

If results go as planned, the coaches are unlikely to make any major changes to the line-ups for the rest of the season, which concludes with the World Championships from 1-4 September in Bled, Slovenia, with 2012 qualifying places on offer.

Hunter, 32, has only recently recovered from an arm injury and could only finish fourth in last month's trials for lightweight men.

But he has regained his place in the top boat after a strong showing in private testing at the GB squad's base in Caversham, near Reading.

"Mark stepped up and delivered in the testing," said Tanner. "In fact, he shone."

The world champion women's quad scull of Annabel Vernon, Beth Rodford, Frances Houghton and Debbie Flood is also back together.

Tom Solesbury, whose wife Katie is in the women's eight, joins the men's quad, who secured Britain's first spot in a World Championships final in this boat class since the early 1980s last November.

Great Britain won nine medals - four gold, four silver and a bronze - from 14 Olympic-class events at the 2010 World Championships in New Zealand but Tanner does not expect that level of success to continue right the way to London 2012.

"Most nations step up at the Olympic Games," he said. "There is a greater intensity so you need almost double the boats in the medal zone to hit your target at the Games."

Munich is the only World Cup event that includes Paralympic-class races, in which Great Britain boasts two world champion crews.

Tom Aggar, who has never been beaten at international level, competes again in the arms-only single and GB will boat two mixed fours.

Sam Scowen is back after a year away, having found a new partner in the double scull in army captain Nick Beighton - a double leg amputee, who was injured in Afghanistan.