Rowing: Master coach Tonks to beef up women's rowing programme

By David Leggat

Legendary rowing coach Dick Tonks. Photo / Janna Dixon
Legendary rowing coach Dick Tonks. Photo / Janna Dixon

There's a clue in the identity of the coach.

Rowing New Zealand are looking to beef up their women's programme and have master coach Dick Tonks overseeing the group this year. The dynamic has changed in the coaching setup, with Calvin Ferguson taking charge of the sculling crews and experienced Australian Noel Donaldson running the cutter over the men's sweep operation.

"Dick wanted to do the women's programme and feels we can develop it more than we have in the past," RNZ high performance boss Alan Cotter said. It's also fair to assume Tonks, among the sport's most decorated and successful coaches, wouldn't have taken the role on for laughs.

He is responsible for lightweight single sculler Louise Ayling, lightweight double Julia Edward and Lucy Strack, heavyweight double Fiona Bourke and Zoe Stevenson; the quad of Erin-Monique Shelton, Genevieve Armstrong, Georgia Perry and Sarah Gray; and a youthful eight.

Tonks' group will take a different route to the world champs in Korea from the other elite crews. Tonks is opting to skip the second World Cup at Eton on the Olympic course of last year in favour of spending time at the Holland Beker regatta in Amsterdam on June 29 and 30.

They will then join the other crews in Lucerne for the third and final World Cup on July 12 to 14. RNZ will have a winter trial in July upon the squad's return home before finalising their world champs crews.

Underpinning all RNZ planning is the ambition of having all 14 Olympic classes filled in Rio in 2016. That includes six women's crews. But there is an acknowledgement that plenty of work lies ahead before that aim is accomplished. "There are new combinations, like the quad, the eight and the double (scull) and it is a four-year development we have to go through. We know we won't get medals straight away, but it's all to do with Rio," Cotter said.

There is a three-day camp at Lake Karapiro from May 3 where all crews will go through a range of racing. Small boats still hold sway in RNZ's thinking. That's where their considerable success has come in recent years. And there's another issue to consider: finance. "All these things depend on funding, and it's getting fairly expensive," Cotter said.

There has been early success in the women's crews.

Stevenson and Bourke won the double scull title at the Sydney World Cup last month, as did Edward and Strack in the lightweight double. However, they know there are far stiffer challenges ahead.

Many of the sport's leading crews stayed away, either due to the distance from Europe or for a post-Olympic break. Still, in time, it might yet prove a good omen.

- NZ Herald

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