AT the start of the Olympic rowing regatta, Kat Copeland was a 21-year-old novice, giddily excited at the prospect of competing at the Games less than a year after stepping up from the junior ranks.

Today, she wakes up as one of the key members of the British squad and a favourite to claim lightweight double sculls gold.

What a difference a race makes. Not just any race of course, but unquestionably the race of Copeland's life and surely also the stand-out British performance from the opening weekend of the Olympic rowing programme.

Competing with former Durham University student Sophie Hosking, Copeland, who is based at Ingelby Barwick and is Tees ARC's first-ever Olympian, claimed victory in yesterday's opening heat of the lightweight double.

More than that, the pair pulled more than two lengths clear of Denmark and New Zealand, the crews that had filled the first two places at the most recent World Cup event in Munich.

Their time of 6:56.97 was more than seven seconds faster than Greece, who won the second heat, and almost 18 seconds faster than the Chinese crew that claimed heat three.

Heat timings are a notoriously unpredictable guide as it is impossible to ascertain how much effort has been expended by each crew. Nevertheless, this was a landmark moment that transformed Copeland and Hosking from potential medal contenders to the team that everyone else will have to beat.

“That was a real step up from our performances at the World Cup, but to be honest, I expected that,” said Copeland, whose next outing will be in the semi-final on Thursday morning. “If we could keep calm on this very different stage, I thought we'd row well.

“We'd done some really good pieces of training in our two training camps and we knew we'd made progress. We had to replicate that in this different situation, but thankfully we did that okay.

“Technically, we knew how we wanted to race. We've been trying different things since the World Cups and something just seemed to click. We've taken a lot of confidence from the work we've been doing.”

The pair's main challenge now will be to handle the increased expectations that will accompany them onto the water on Thursday.

Copeland is a completely different rower to the self-conscious teenager who almost gave up the sport when she struggled to settle in London two years ago.

She credits much of her progress to the work she he has carried out on the Tees under the watchful eye of her coach, James Harris, and she finished fifth in the single scull at last year's World Championships after progressing from the junior ranks.

Nevertheless, she will never have experienced anything like an Olympic semi-final in front of 25,000 screaming fans, although she claims her youthful naivety could actually play to her advantage.

“I like being the youngest member of this team,” she said. “I've never been at anything like this before, so I don't have any negative experiences. I'm just really, really excited about the whole thing.

“I don't feel any pressure from anyone else – the only pressure is the pressure we put on ourselves. There's a pressure to qualify for the final, but that's just because we both really want to get there. That's not a negative thing. We've got a chance of getting into an Olympic final and that's amazing.”

The British pair will be guaranteed partisan support in three days time, and the stands at Eton Dorney were packed for the second day running yesterday. There might be empty spaces elsewhere, but the rowing regatta is playing to packed audiences in every session.

After a sunny start to the day, the heavens opened just as Copeland and Hosking took their place on the start line, yet that did not stop the noise increasing as they raced through the final quarter of the race to record Britain's first win of the day.

“It was amazing,” said Copeland. “We'd spoken to some of the crews that raced on Saturday so we kind of knew what to expect, but it was like a wall of noise that just hit you with 750m to go.

“It's a real pick up for the last section of the race because you can hear the crowd willing you on. Hopefully, we'll be able to use that to our advantage.

“It's nice to have that support, and it was nice to know I had so many of my friends and family here as well. My mum and dad were here, along with my little brother and my boyfriend.

“There were some people from Tees Rowing Club and also my friend Anna (Fairs). She's training for the Junior Worlds and I could hear here shouting my name as we warmed up before the race. That was nice because it immediately made me feel at ease.”

With that in mind, it is only to be hoped Anna has tickets for the semi-finals and final as well. On yesterday's evidence, she will certainly need them.