WINDSOR, England -- The United States and Canada won their heats Sunday to qualify for the final of the women's eight, setting up one of the top showdowns of the Olympic rowing regatta.
Unbeaten in six years, the U.S. was again dominant in its first competitive outing on Dorney Lake, surging to an early lead and holding its form and synchronicity to win by about two lengths in 6 minutes, 14.68 seconds.
"It was a strong first race," American rower Taylor Ritzel said. "It's always nice to finally just feel the race ... and get a race under our belts. Can't wait for the final now."
Canada, which lost by three hundredths of a second to the U.S. in a recent World Cup regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland, finished nearly a length ahead of Romania in a slightly quicker time of 6:13.91 in the second heat. That was the final race of the day, ending just before thunder and lightning rumbled over the course.
The final is Thursday.
"It's going to come down to the last stroke," U.S. coxswain Mary Whittle said.
On the men's side, Olympic and world champion Britain made a timely return to form in the lightweight double sculls to seal a morale-boosting victory against rival New Zealand in the heats.
Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase started the year as one of the host nation's leading gold-medal hopes but appeared to lack fitness. They slumped to disappointing sixth-place finishes in the last two World Cup events, in Lucerne and Munich.
However, they secured a wire-to-wire victory here in 6:36.29, a half length ahead of Kiwi pair Storm Uru and Peter Taylor. Both crews gave it their all to the line, even though they were far ahead of the rest of the field, with two boats qualifying.
"We hate losing more than anyone else," Hunter said. "We came here and we wanted a hard heat. We got that delivered on a plate."
Denmark, though, was the quickest of the eight qualifiers for the semifinals, with Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist winning the third heat in 6:33.11 minutes. Italy was also quicker than Britain by more than half a second.
The defending Olympic double sculls men's champions from Australia easily won their repechage Sunday to reach the semifinals.
David Crawshay and Scott Brennan finished a surprising fourth in their heat on Saturday, forcing them to row an extra race, but they won by two lengths at a sunny Dorney Lake to reach Tuesday's semifinals. Ukraine and Canada also advanced.
In the women's lightweight double sculls, Louise Ayling and Julia Edward, the favorites from New Zealand, must go through the repechage to get to the semifinals after finishing third in their heat.
Sophie Hosking and Katherine Copeland of Britain were easily the quickest qualifiers. Britain is looking for its first women's gold in rowing, with the host nation also having great chances in the women's pair and double sculls.
The U.S. won the repechage in the lightweight men's four, advancing to the semifinals with Italy and Czech Republic.