U.S. advances to men's 8 final

WINDSOR, England -- Germany and United States won heats in the blue-riband men's eight on the first day of the Olympic rowing regatta Saturday, leaving a host of top crews to vie for places in the final.

Only one crew progresses from each heat. The Germans, unbeaten in three years, finished a half length ahead of Britain at Dorney Lake. Olympic champion Canada came in last in a race fit for the final.

The U.S. beat Australia by a half length to reach Wednesday's final, which should be one of the regatta highlights.

A packed crowd, treated to sunshine on a still, cloudless day, witnessed an Olympic-best time in the regatta's first race when Britain's Helen Glover and Heather Stanning won the opening women's pair heat by more than four seconds.

They finished in 6 minutes, 57.29 seconds to break a 16-year best time held by Australia to ease home by a length ahead of the U.S. The Americans progressed along with Australia and New Zealand from the second heat.

Glover and Stanning are competing in the regatta's first final Wednesday and are looking to become the first British women to win Olympic gold.

World champion Germany and Ukraine qualified directly for the final of the women's quadruple scull by winning their heats.

The German men's eight has won the last three world championships but were unhappy after the draw Thursday. They were placed in a heavyweight heat with the defending champions, a host nation that is a dark horse for gold and a powerful Dutch crew.

They needn't have worried.

Surging to an early lead in a slight crosswind, Germany established clear water within 500 meters. Britain, starting with a fully fit crew for the first time this season, closed the gap slightly by the end but the Germans coasted home in 5:25.52. Canada was a massive 12 seconds back.

The Americans traditionally dominate this event but failed to qualify directly for the Olympics for the first time. They needed a victory in a final qualifying regatta in May to squeeze into the Games.

But, under coach Mike Teti, they looked impressive Saturday. They were graceful and smooth and had too much for Australia and Poland, which won the final World Cup event in Munich last month.