Rowing: New crews strike gold at Eton Dorney

By Andrew Alderson at Eton Dorney

The New Zealand Lightweight Men's Four crew of James Hunter, James Lassche, Peter Taylor and Curtis Rapley celebrate victory. Photo /Getty Images
The New Zealand Lightweight Men's Four crew of James Hunter, James Lassche, Peter Taylor and Curtis Rapley celebrate victory. Photo /Getty Images

With four gold medals and a silver at the season's second World Cup regatta, Rowing New Zealand made a compelling case towards justifying their $18.4 million of high performance funding for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic cycle.

It wasn't so much the number of medals but where they came from that will have the powers-that-be grinning. Three medals (two gold and a silver) came from revamped Rio-focused crews; Emma Twigg's gold in the single sculls suggests she is in her pomp at 26; and there was the usual gong banked by Hamish Bond and Eric Murray.

Rowing's governing body gets the most taxpayer investment of any sport. This result reinforces their strategy. RNZ delivered the results without the majority of the Dick Tonks-coached women's crews who will bolster the squad at the World Cup regatta in Lucerne next month. They also await the return of Mahe Drysdale for the world championships, presuming the defending Olympic champion qualifies after summiting Mt Kilimanjaro.

The men's double scullers are the best example of replenishment. Michael Arms and Robbie Manson emerged from the quadruple sculls boat which finished seventh at the Olympics. The 23-year-olds have won both World Cups they have entered, despite assuming the intimidating mantle left by Olympic champions Joseph Sullivan and Nathan Cohen. Further trials will be held before the world championships but they have staked a serious claim.

Arms hinted at the belief generated as part of a programme inundated with world and Olympic champions.

"It's an amazing feeling having Joe and Nathan in the back of your minds; it reinstated to us that [world championship] gold is possible and it was nice to put another performance on the track."

"We have high expectations of what we want to achieve coming out of the quad," Manson added.

Before this year, New Zealand had never won a world championship or Olympic title in the men's lightweight coxless four. With the inclusion of veteran Peter Taylor, the incumbents have won both World Cups this season. Yesterday at Eton Dorney they held off a surging Danish crew after 'catching a crab' (the technical term when an oar jams in the water during the race) with around 250m left.

Taylor, who won bronze in the lightweight double sculls at the Olympics, has made a successful transition to sweep oar rowing.

"Six to eight months ago a lightweight four was not in the picture [for RNZ]. Now our expectations and standards have been raised. Thanks to James [Lassche] and Curtis [Rapley] it was a lot tougher than it needed to be," Taylor laughed, in reference to the crab. "But, hey, we wanted to put pressure on ourselves. We could've just continued as we were and won by half a length."

"In the last 500m all we had to do was keep cool and row clean," Rapley said. "It just got to us a bit. I tried to get ahead of the boat but luckily we had a cushion of a lead. It was pretty tough picking a dead boat back up but we did it."

Under-23 world champion Kayla Pratt impressed replacing Juliette Haigh in the women's pair. She earned silver with Rebecca Scown.

Twigg, in a field where she was the sole Olympic finalist from 10 months ago, used her course experience to good effect.

"It surprised me to get out so far ahead [in the first 500m]. I guess it helps when you train under all conditions at Lake Karapiro. It was about keeping relaxed and Eric [Murray] had a word to me before I went out. He said 'keep relaxed and long in the stroke', basically summing up all those technical things which help in rough water. It wasn't a conscious decision to get out front but once I did, I wanted to make the most of it because I knew it would be harder down the finishing end."

Earlier Hamish Bond and Eric Murray extinguished any theories of complacency in the wake of their Olympic triumph.

They established the longest winning streak at international events in men's rowing with a 14th consecutive title.

Against an underwhelming field in post-Olympic year, they streaked away to win by 15.73s. Officially Poland came second but that would doing daylight a disservice. The performance was so decisive that at one point a wide-angled television shot showed no opposition crews in the frame as New Zealand exited and no-one else entered.

Ever the romantic, Murray seized his chance at the medal ceremony to unveil a picture from beneath his lycra race suit wishing wife Jackie happy birthday.

The men's coxless four and lightweight single sculler Duncan Grant came fourth.
The boats containing Olympic double sculling champions Joseph Sullivan and Nathan Cohen failed to make finals. Sullivan finished 11th in the single sculls; Cohen and his quadruple sculls crewmates finished ninth.

- Herald on Sunday

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