HELEN GLOVER'S hopes of a third straight Olympic title look dim after a disappointing opening to her Tokyo 2020 campaign.
Glover and new partner Polly Swann were expected to lay down a marker in their opening heat at the Sea Forest Waterway.
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But instead the GB pair finished THIRD, behind not only Aussies Jessica Morrison and Annabelle McIntyre but also the Russian duo of Vasilisa Stepanova and Elena Oriabinskaia.
Glover and Swann were off the pace from the outset as the Australians took control from the start.
Yet after being second at the 500m mark, they were then overtaken by the Russians, who at one point were half a length clear.
A late burst allowed Glover and Swann to close the gap but they were still 2.23seconds behind the winners.
Even more worrying, the Australian time of 7:21.73 was more than three seconds slower than the first heat winners from Canada.
Glover, who took three years out of the sport Rio to start a family, slumped her head in the bow of the boat as she crossed the line.
She and Swann still qualified for Tuesday’s semi-finals but they are now facing a battle to even make the final, let alone win it.
Olympic gold medallist Dame Katherine Grainger told BBC Sport: "We haven't seen Helen back in the boat for five years.
"We all have – and continue to have – high hopes but we also haven't seen the rest of the world for almost two years.
"So, Helen and Polly came back to do the Europeans and they won it, which was impressive.
"The big risks, the leading nations while Helen has been away have been the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia – they were all to come back in and what they have shown here at the global level is just how good they are.
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"They have a fight on their hands but this is the Olympics, they won't give the title up easily."
Elsewhere there was more early disappointment for Team GB as Seonaid McIntosh failed to reach the final of the 10m Air Rifle.
The blue-haired Scot needed to finish in the top eight to progress but could only manage 12th.
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