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Boat race sponsors Newton turn tide for women rowers Laura Williamson column

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As the BBC and now BT Sport seem to have noted, you get a lot more action and access for your money when it comes to buying the television, sponsorship and commercial rights for women’s disciplines.

The Boat Race, an event that exudes privilege, pomp and circumstance like no other, might seem an unlikely cause to champion a step forward for sportswomen, but it is the tradition and rigmarole that makes this a particularly important development.

When Katherine Grainger returned from the Sydney Olympics in 2000 after winning Great Britain’s first medal in women’s rowing, a silver in the quad, she said someone came up to her and said: ‘We didn’t even know women rowed.’

You can understand why few — men or women — would want to, given the demands of a sport that has little time for finesse or creativity and commands absolute teamwork to succeed at the highest level.

Anna Watkins (left), with whom Grainger won gold so memorably in London in the double sculls, has said a family member tried to put her off rowing in case ‘she got big arms’. It’s all in the legs, of course, but sweeping generalisations have no time for small technicalities like that.

Watkins ploughed on regardless and, 12 years after Grainger came back from Australia with that silver medal, Britain’s women won their first Olympic gold medals since the sport was added to the programme in 1976 — three of them, in fact.

If the wheels of Oxford and Cambridge can creak slowly into action with regard to a sport as brutal and punishing as rowing, it feels like anything could happen.

WHAT THEY SAID

British athlete Lisa Dobriskey said she did not believe she was ‘competing on a level playing field’ in the Olympic 1500metres final in London and was roundly accused of sour grapes.

The gold medal-winner, Turkey’s Cakir Alptekin, is now facing a lifetime ban after ‘big abnormalities’ were found in her biological passport. Some might just owe Dobriskey an apology.

Accused: Lisa Dobriskey's opponent is facing a lifetime ban for 'big abnormalities' in her biological passport

Accused: Lisa Dobriskey's opponent is facing a lifetime ban for 'big abnormalities' in her biological passport

WHAT I'VE BEEN DOING THIS WEEK

Watched Wrexham win the FA Trophy with a 4-1 penalty shootout win over Grimsby.

On Saturday, Grimsby fans congregated in Trafalgar Square for a photo. ‘Which team is this’ said a steward. ‘So are they in the Champions League, then’ I wish.

Glory: Ecstatic Wrexham player-manager Andy Morrell celebrates with the FA Trophy

Glory: Ecstatic Wrexham player-manager Andy Morrell celebrates with the FA Trophy

Got exasperated at the persistent use of the phrase ‘pre-planned’ to describe Rio Ferdinand’s fitness programme. It is either planned or it is not, just like the defender’s ill-advised little jaunt to Doha.

Attended my first Women in Football meeting at Stamford Bridge on Friday after being, I admit, very dubious about the whole idea. I just want to be ‘in football’ rather than a ‘WiF’. I can’t tell you anything else owing to Chatham House rules, but it was certainly very, very interesting.

PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK

Arsenal Ladies beat ASD Torres 3-1 in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at Boreham Wood.

Glad to see there’s still one English team fighting for the cause in Europe — and the women’s final is at Stamford Bridge this year, too. The second leg takes place in Sardinia on Wednesday.

London 2012 Olympics: Natterjack horse painted in Union Jack

How's this for a glorious rein, your Majesty Natterjack gets in the Jubilee spirit

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 4 June 2012

Majestically sporting the Union Flag, his ears happily pricked up, this horse is clearly getting into the spirit of the Queen’s Jubilee.

Natterjack, a 14-year-old former racehorse, was painted in Britain’s colours at Barbury Castle Estate in Wiltshire before rider Laura Collett took him round the cross-country course which is designed to look like a mini Stonehenge.

Scroll down to watch the video

Leap of faith: Laura Collett takes Natterjack round the Barbury Castle Estate

Leap of faith: Laura Collett takes Natterjack round the Barbury Castle Estate

A team of four, led by equine physio Nicole Rossa, took five painstaking hours to transform the gelding from his usual grey using liquid chalk, a harmless substance which washes off easily. He enjoyed the attention, munching hay and carrots as the two layers of paintwork were applied.

Once complete, rising eventing star Collett, 22, guided Natterjack over the signature fence of the Barbury International Horse Trials which will be the last major British competition before the Olympic Games.

And Sportsmail photographer Andy Hooper was there to take this stunning mid-air picture.

‘It was really eye-catching,’ said Collett of the design. ‘It did take a long time for them to do, but if you stood even a metre back it looked like a piece of artwork, it didn’t look like chalk on a horse.

‘It was good fun. It was quite different being in a dress and having the horse painted. None of us were too sure how it would work out.’

Best of British: Laura Collett with Natterjack who was painted in the Union Jack

Best of British: Laura Collett with Natterjack who was painted in the Union Jack

Collett, who lives nearby and has been riding since she was two, added: ‘I only did the jump about six times. It worked really well. We couldn’t get the horse too hot because the paint would start to rub off and smudge. He was sweet to ride and did what he needed.’

The Stonehenge jump, made from fallen beech, is the stand-out feature of the Barbury International, which will be staged on Marlborough Downs, Wiltshire, between June 28 and July 1.

It offers equestrian enthusiasts a final chance to see members of the British Olympic team in action before the Games start four weeks later in Greenwich Park.

The final group of five has yet to be announced after bad weather forced the cancellation of the Badminton and Chatsworth events. The team should now be named after Yorkshire’s Bramham International finishes on Sunday.

Collett is one of the riders, along with Zara Phillips, the Queen’s granddaughter, whose chances now hang in the balance and will be determined by the selectors, although her Olympic hopes are more likely to be realised in Rio four years from now.

Picture perfect: Sportsmail snapper Andy Hooper gets in position to take the photo of Naterjack

Picture perfect: Sportsmail snapper Andy Hooper gets in position to take the photo of Naterjack

Britain will be looking to be in the medals at London after a team of William Fox-Pitt, Piggy French, Mary King and Nicola Wilson won bronze at last year’s European Championships.

Natterjack lives at the Barbury Estate which is owned by Nigel and Penny Bunter. They took him after he retired from racing when he was trained by Alan King.

‘One of the things about Barbury is that no matter where you stand, you can see the whole cross-country course, which is unique,’ said Collett.

‘The re-creation of Stonehenge is at the top of a hill, so it stands out and is very impressive.

‘I know a lot of people from a lot of nations will be using Barbury as their final run before the Olympics.’

IT STARTED WITH A CROSS…

The pattern is mapped with brown sticky tape, starting with the Cross of St George, then colour is applied. The angular bits, such as the stifle (hip), are more difficult than fleshy areas, while care is taken over the eyes.

Sportsmail’s Andy Hooper said: ‘I loved the idea of painting a horse in a Union Flag, and thought we could combine it with the Stonehenge jump to get a real British feel.

It took about six months to sort because there are so many aspects — not least getting an Olympic standard rider in Olympic year. We picked a date and just prayed the weather would be good. Luckily the sun was shining.’

First steps: The horse Natterjack is painted with a Union Jack flag

First steps: The horse Natterjack is painted with a Union Jack flag

… and ENDED IN A PERFECT PICTURE

I’m lying down to exaggerate the perspective. Laura is jumping downhill and the ground’s slippery so it would be difficult to stop. And I was in the danger zone; if he decided to go round rather than over I’d have been done for! Natterjack was prepared from 11am to 4pm — longer than a supermodel! But in the end, it only took six shots to get this picture.

Andy Hooper

Advance tickets for the event are just
12 per person, with under 12s going free. For tickets and information
visit www.barburyhorsetrials.co.uk or call the box office on 01672
516125.