Rowing: Kiwis defend pairs title in thriller

Juliette Haigh (right) and Rebecca Scown pipped the British pair by a margin of just .08s and now switch their focus to the Olympics. Photo / AP
Juliette Haigh (right) and Rebecca Scown pipped the British pair by a margin of just .08s and now switch their focus to the Olympics. Photo / AP

Anyone marking their Olympic Games cards for Events Not To Miss should put a tick beside the women's coxless pairs final as one of the potential crackers on the Eton Dorney course next August.

Juliette Haigh and Rebecca Scown repeated their victory from last year's world championships at Lake Karapiro with a thriller in Bled, Slovenia late on Thursday night (NZ time).

Having gone nose to nose with Britain's Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, the New Zealand pair prevailed by a margin of just .08s.

It required a photo finish before Haigh and Scown were able to celebrate.

So which is better: winning a world title on home water or defending it abroad?

"Winning on home water: there's nothing like it, it was such an enjoyable experience," Scown, who sits in the stroke seat, said.

"This year, having a world title to defend, has been quite emotional for us, and it was really satisfying."

With their win, Haigh - who won the same world title with Nicky Coles in Japan in 2005 - and Scown are the first New Zealand crew able to set their sights on London.

Two other crews, Eric Murray and Hamish Bond in the coxless pair, and double scullers Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan, arrived in Bled to defend titles won last year.

Cohen and Sullivan had their final late last night.

For Haigh and Scown, there was a speed bump, in the form of the British pair, who beat them by almost 2s in the Lucerne regatta in early July.

That result certainly helped sharpen their focus.

"We had a pretty decent training block from Lucerne until now," Scown said.

"It was pretty targeted to try and improve in different areas and get more overall speed.

"But it's down to a lot of hard work. There's no way round it. You have to push hard."

Still, the win - and the British challenge - sets them up nicely for the London Olympics.

"The whole event is going to be very competitive and there's no room for any complacency from now on," Scown said.

The women's quad are also on their way to London after a rousing display at the worlds, culminating in a bronze for Sarah Gray, Fiona Bourke, Louise Trappitt and stroke Eve Macfarlane.

They crossed behind Germany and the United States in 6m 23.33s, almost 5s behind the Germans, but the smiles were broad on the podium for a crew who have made rapid progress under the tutelage of Rowing New Zealand's head coach Dick Tonks.

But it wasn't all rosy on the first night of finals for RNZ. They have been keen on promoting the men's eight, one of the sport's blue riband events. They finished sixth in the A final at last year's worlds on Lake Karapiro in just their second race together, but didn't fire as expected in Slovenia.

The eight - Nick Pusinelli, Tyson Williams, Adam Tripp, Tobias Wehr-Candler, Ian Seymour, Sean O'Neill, Hamish Burson, David Eade and cox Ivan Pavich - finished fourth in the B final, needing victory to ensure the boat an automatic place in the London Olympic field.

Now RNZ must consider whether they feel it worthwhile sending the eight to the final Olympic qualifying regatta in Lucerne next May.

An injury to experienced Carl Meyer upset the dynamics and forced changes in the mix of coxless four and eight oarsmen which didn't help.

Last night, four New Zealand crews were aiming to nail places in A finals - the men's quad and coxless pair, women's double and single sculler Mahe Drysdale.

In addition, New Zealand were in two finals - Cohen and Sullivan, and Duncan Grant in his non-Olympic lightweight single scull.

- NZ Herald

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