The Emma Twigg experiment extended in the right direction yesterday on Lake Karapiro.
Twigg won the women's single sculls for the seventh time, beating flatmate and defending champion Lucy Spoors by 5.03s, with Zoe Stevenson third.
With Olympic trials starting in a week, and New Zealand yet to qualify in the women's single sculls, the former world champion appears a certainty to contest the three remaining Rio Games spots at the regatta of death in Lucerne from May 22-25.
"Three months out, this is probably the last race I'll have against women's single scullers," Twigg said. "It's a fantastic benchmark [to set] against the strength of that field."
The 28-year-old won her maiden world title in an unbeaten 2014. Then, in a shock move for an athlete at her career zenith, she put working aspirations ahead of sporting ambitions.
Twigg accepted a place on the one-year, post-graduate Fifa masters course in the management, law and humanities of sport, taught across universities in Leicester, Milan and Neuchatel.
It was a risk. She and Rowing New Zealand parted ways for the duration of her course.
The governing body generally adheres to the principle no athlete can work outside the centralised programme. Their results suggest this methodology works.
Rowing NZ supplemented Twigg with a discretionary grant, but two years of taxpayer funding were lost through High Performance Sport New Zealand's performance enhancement grants. That figure was expected to be at least $115,000 ($60,000 as a world champion plus $55,000 if she'd maintained a podium place last year).
Twigg's performance yesterday suggests she's returned refreshed ahead of the Rio Olympic team announcement on March 4.
"[In a year away] I learnt a lot about my body as an athlete. Having that mental break, and even a bit of a physical break from the racing, enabled me to make massive adaptations in the gym and on the water.
"This week I'll get a good idea what my trial will involve. This was a lot more important to me than other girls who are mixing it up in combinations. For me it was a matter of letting them [Rowing NZ] know I'm still where I need to be."