Rowing's fast riser

By Dana Johannsen

Given that rowing is a sport most athletes excel in relatively late in their development, it is little wonder that there is such a buzz surrounding the arrival of women's single-sculler Emma Twigg.

Twigg, who turns 21 next week, is already being hailed as the next big thing in New Zealand rowing.

Her world-beating potential was underpinned this week when she scooped the Emerging Talent award at the Halberg Awards.

Competing at this week's nationals at Lake Karapiro, Twigg was able to squeeze in a whirlwind trip to Christchurch to collect her award and the $25,000 scholarship that came with it.

Her win at the Halbergs capped off a great night for rowing with world champion men's single sculler Mahe Drysdale retaining his Sportsman of the Year award and the world champion men's coxless four taking out the Team of the Year award.

Twigg joked she got "a wee bit of stick" from her fellow award-winning rowers for the financial reward that came as part of the prize but said she was thrilled to earn such recognition.

"It's a great honour which I wasn't expecting," she said.

The award follows a remarkable 2007 for Twigg, who won the world Under-23 single sculls title in July before finishing sixth in the World Champs in Lucerne the following month.

It was the first time Twigg had competed at senior level and in reaching the final she surpassed the expectations not only of the rowing community but also herself.

In doing so, she qualified a New Zealand boat for the single sculls event for Beijing and put herself in pole position to row it.

Her place at the Games won't be confirmed until after Rowing New Zealand holds their national trials next week, but by all accounts she is a shoo-in for the spot.

Twigg, though, is reluctant to get too far ahead of herself.

"Selection is still at the forefront of my mind, once I've got that out of the way then I can focus on the Olympics or other big events in my programme," said Twigg, a former Herald Junior Sports Awards winner.

While she was reluctant to look too far down the track, Twigg said she dreamed of an Olympic medal.

She felt her sixth placing at last year's World Champs was a good gauge of where she sits at senior level and proved a podium placing at the Olympics was definitely do-able.

"If I go to the Olympics I'll be there with the aim of winning a medal. I'm not the type of person who would go there just to make up the numbers," she said.

Twigg's rowing career got off to a shaky start. She took up the sport as a fourth former at Napier Girls High School and admits she wasn't immediately endeared to the sport. "I hated it to begin with," she laughs.

It was only the encouragement of her father, who is on the board of Rowing New Zealand, that convinced Twigg to stick with it.

It turns out Peter Twigg was on to a winner.

His daughter improved rapidly and was soon winning national titles. In 2005 she took out the World Junior Single Sculls title in Germany and also has youth Olympic titles to her name.

Despite Twigg's early reticence, she sees herself sticking with the sport for some time yet.

The early morning starts and the long hours training can be a hard slog, but Twigg says: "I definitely see myself being there for the next Olympiad. Rowing is a sport that can take years and years to build a good endurance base.

"It's one of the late-developing sports and some of the top international women are still going into their late 30s, you don't really hit your straps until later."

A sobering thought for her rivals.

- NZ Herald

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