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Rowing: Women rowers on cusp of unprecedented success

Women's elite pair, Grace Prendergast (L) and Keri Gowler (R). Photo / Christine Cornege.
Women's elite pair, Grace Prendergast (L) and Keri Gowler (R). Photo / Christine Cornege.

New Zealand women's rowing looks set to receive its biggest boost since Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell triumphed at the Athens and Beijing Olympics.

Four of the nine Rio-bound crews named at Lake Karapiro yesterday were tenanted by women, and each boat is capable of securing a medal.

Lightweight double scullers Julia Edward and Sophie MacKenzie, and double scullers Zoe Stevenson and Eve Macfarlane are world champions.

The eight of Rebecca Scown, Genevieve Behrent, Kerri Gowler, Grace Prendergast, Kelsey Bevan, Ruby Tew, Emma Dyke, Kayla Pratt and coxswain Francie Turner were silver medallists last year. If you're looking for further depth and competitiveness, the Rio-bound pair of Scown and Behrent have been preferred over world championship silver medallists Gowler and Prendergast.

Emma Twigg, the 2014 single sculls world champion, also shapes as a podium contender after taking a year out to study.

She must qualify her boat at Lucerne in May.

To put their capability in context, New Zealand has previously had four women's medal-winning crews since women first participated in rowing at the Olympics in 1976. Joining the Evers-Swindells' double gold was Nikki Payne and Lynley Hannen's bronze in the pair at Seoul, and Scown and Juliette Haigh's bronze in the pair at London.

Much toil is required before it's raining medals for the Kiwis, but prospects have never been better.

Scown is leading the revolution. She stroked the eight last year and now gets a reprieve into the pair, a boat the 32-year-old has crewed for six of her 10 seasons at elite level.

Scown and Behrent are part of an Olympic level experiment. Rio will be the first time in New Zealand's history that women rowers have contested more than one event at a Games.

It was attempted by Chris White, Greg Johnston and coxswain Andrew Bird in the coxed pair and coxed four at the Seoul Olympics. They reached the semi-final, but opted out in favour of concentrating on the four.

"We'll work closely with Dave [coach of both crews, Dave Thompson] to best manage racing and training," Scown said. "We know the situation and think it is more than achievable."

Overseas it is a relatively common strategy, and Gowler and Prendergast employed it last year. However, the odds are higher with Olympic medals on the line.

"We wanted to create history and we've done that by qualifying the eight," Scown said. "The new challenge at the Olympics is to do everything we can to achieve the ultimate."

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