Rowing: Croatians will give Kiwi double scullers a run

By David Leggat

Julia Edward and Sophie Mackenzie, from right, from New Zealand compete at the Lightweight Women's Double Sculls Final race at the Rowing World Cup. Photo / AP
Julia Edward and Sophie Mackenzie, from right, from New Zealand compete at the Lightweight Women's Double Sculls Final race at the Rowing World Cup. Photo / AP

Think of New Zealand's rowing crews challenging for medals at the Rio Olympics and certain names leap to mind.

Like unbeatable pair Eric Murray and Hamish Bond, and single sculling maestro Mahe Drysdale, both winners in London in 2012, and the men's lightweight four, who appeal as, at least, podium finishers.

Then among the women you have Emma Twigg in the single scull, two-time defending world champions Julia Edward and Sophie Mackenzie, double scullers Zoe Stevenson and Eve Macfarlane and pair Rebecca Scown and Genevieve Behrent.

That's seven crews out of the qualifying group of 11 who will be on Lagoa de Rodrigo and offering genuine prospects of medals. This is shaping as a potential bumper rowing medal haul.

But wait, there's one more. If you like your sports achievers sailing just under the radar, step forward Chris Harris and Rob Manson, the double sculling duo.

What's more, stroke Harris likes it that way.

"I'm happy with how it is. Just get on and enjoy your rowing," he said.

There's one substantial obstacle in their bid for gold, Croatian brothers Valent and Martin Sinkovic, who have won every major race they've contested since 2014, including two world championships, a range of World Cups and European championships.

Still there's not much in it, and Harris and Manson were second in World Cup 2 at Lucerne, just behind the Croats, then won the third cup regatta at Poznan, Poland, albeit when the Croats were missing.

"Wins do a lot of good. We had that expectation of winning [in Poland], but it is good to go through and win. We're always going to have the belief that we are fast enough to win, no matter who we race," Harris said.

This far out, it looks to be a duel between Croatia, Lithuanians Rolandas Mascinskas and Saulius Ritter and New Zealand.

Both New Zealand men are attending their second Olympics.

At London, Manson, 26, was stroke in the quad which missed the A final by one spot, and won the B final convincingly; Harris, 30, was stroke in the four, who finished fifth in the B final.

Since teaming up in 2014 they have produced a string of solid results, improving with each outing.

"When we were first put together it just seemed like it naturally worked," Harris said. "We're working on small, minor details and consistency. We row really similarly, and get on really well, and that helps."

Their last two cup results have shown they have the ability to be right in the fight for medals in Rio. Harris, Durban-born but who moved to New Zealand at eight, and Manson have been training the past few weeks alongside Murray and Bond, and the men's eight, at Sursee, near Lucerne. It's a small, tight group, providing quality preparation and sufficient down time in a relaxed environment which has suited them.

So exactly where they'd like to be, now they are settling into Rio?

"Yeah, definitely. We'd always like to be faster but we've had good health, been really consistent throughout the season and had a really good platform to be 100 per cent in Rio."

There's nothing complicated for these men, who started rowing at Wanganui High School (Harris) and Marlborough Boys College (Manson).

As Harris put it: 'At the end of the day it's a 2km course, same for everyone. Obviously the Olympics are an awesome occasion, but you treat it the same. Just try and make the boat go as fast as you can."

Simple as that.

- NZ Herald

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