Helen Glover (left) and Polly Swann made it through to the coxless pairs semi-final but had the slowest time of the qualifiers


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Helen Glover’s hopes of capping a remarkable return with an historic third successive Olympic gold medal were dealt a hefty blow on a disappointing Saturday morning for Britain’s rowers when her pairing with Polly Swann only just managed to scrape through to the semi-finals as the slowest qualifiers.

After almost five years out to start a family, Glover raised expectations that she might again stand atop the Olympic podium when she and Swann won the European title earlier this year.

However, they were left in no doubt of the big step up to global level when only finishing third in their women’s pair heat behind Australia and the Russian team.

With the top three in each heat booking their spot for the next round, the British pair’s time of seven minutes 23.98 seconds would not have been good enough to ensure their progress in either of the other heats.

“It’s good to progress to the next round, we both know there is more to come as it wasn’t a perfect row but I guess there’s definitely value in learning in the early rounds,” said Glover, who won pairs gold in 2012 and 2016 with Heather Stanning.

“We are open to what is coming next. We know we have done better in training, it would be more frustrating if we had a perfect row and didn’t have anything to improve on.”

Swann added: “It’s always good to win the first round, sometimes that’s not how it happens but people still come away as Olympic champions. We have dealt well with how the race went and we are ready to learn and progress.”

Speaking on the BBC, five-time Olympic medal-winning rower Katherine Grainger said: “We clearly all have, and continue to have, great hopes. But we also haven’t seen the rest of the world for almost two years.

“Helen and Polly came back to do the European this summer and they won it – they were outstanding. The big risks were the lead nations over the last few years, while Helen’s been away, have been USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand.

“They were all to come back in and what they’ve shown here is just how good they are at the global level. So there’s a fight on.”

Little more than 12 hours after he carried the Team GB flag at Friday night’s opening ceremony, Moe Sbihi was part of a men’s eight whose Olympic title defence also began in disappointing fashion when they trailed in third of three boats in their heat, meaning they must now progress from the repechage to make the final.

Team GB men's eight trailed in third of three boats in their heat

Credit: AFP

Sbihi originally intended to have plenty of time between his ceremonial exertions and the start of competition, but the men’s eight heats were shifted forward a day due to a typhoon forecast to hit Tokyo on Monday.

The main weather concern on Saturday was the searing heat as Sbihi’s eight finished behind Holland and New Zealand. They were only the fifth fastest boat overall in the heats. T

heir women’s eight counterparts will also go in the repechage after coming fourth of four in their heat.

There was far better news for Britain’s reigning men’s four champions who won their heat with ease as they bid for a sixth successive Olympic gold. The women’s four will need the repechage if they are to follow suit.

Imogen Grant and Emily Craig finished second in their lightweight women’s double sculls heat to secure their semi-final place.