HE'S the double-Olympic gold medal winner who's secured everything from epic rowing victories, to braving The Tour de France's Etape, and racing to the South Pole.

But today, it was rowing the River Tone that James Cracknell, six-times world championship title holder set in his sights, to give his star backing to a proposed youth watersports facility in Taunton's heart.

The £600,000 Centre for Outdoor Activities and Community Hub (COACH) Water Sports Centre is well on its way to becoming a reality in French Weir Park, near the footbridge.

The model for the state-of-the-art centre, fashioned by Taunton architects, was on show to assembled supporters and would-be benefactors, from water-mad school pupils, to local councillors and Somerset County Council chairman David Fothergill.

It was an incredibly damp start this morning as the rain came lashing down upon water-borne youngsters from Taunton, North Town and Lyngford Park schools.

There was no fear of the rain dampening spirits, as youngsters took to canoes, stand-up paddle boards and blade-like rowing boats with the legendary elite athlete.

Prospective MP for Taunton Rebecca Pow (Con) also joined the flotilla from Firepool to French Weir for her first time's rowing.

James Cracknell, standing alongside project leaders Ian Payne and Dave Bullock of Taunton Adventurous Sports and Canoe Club, said: "It's a fantastic thing to have a facility like this, which will be not just for water sports, but also land-based activities; have a cafe, and be a focal point of the county to keep people coming back."

The team behind the project will be on tenterhooks until next month to find out whether the Sport England funding body will help make COACH's project a reality.

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