Rowing: Rowers set to be great achievers

By David Leggat

Top-rated men and women in black will be at the Rio starting line in all but three of the Games disciplines.
Mahe Drysdale is hoisted by the silver and bronze medallists after winning gold in London. Picture / Mark Mitchell
Mahe Drysdale is hoisted by the silver and bronze medallists after winning gold in London. Picture / Mark Mitchell

New Zealand will send its strongest individual sports team to an Olympic Games in Rio.

The question around the rowing squad is how many medals will this outstanding group bring home.

Of the 14 Olympic disciplines - eight men, six women - New Zealand will present themselves on the start line in 11, the exceptions being the lightweight men's double, men's four and women's quad.

Nine won selection at last year's world championships, former world champion single sculler Emma Twigg predictably secured her spot at the final qualifying regatta in Lucerne in May, while the men's quad won a late reprieve when Russia were rubbed out, courtesy of a failed test by one of its four scullers last month.

In London, rowing contributed five medals to the overall team tally of 13.Three of them were gold, to single sculler Mahe Drysdale, unmatchable pair Eric Murray and Hamish Bond and now-retired double scullers Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan.

The key additions to the New Zealand squad this time is the two eights crews. New Zealand has for years focused on small boat racing, and their record in the last decade supports that policy.

However burrowed away within Rowing New Zealand has been the idea of getting back to having a presence in the big boats.

Funding support was found to ramp up the programme, which will extend to the Tokyo Games in 2020, and the two eights have raced creditably, especially the women's crew under coach Dave Thompson.

They won silver at last year's worlds behind the United States and are now rowing strongly and cleverly enough. Thompson changed the seating order at the third World Cup regatta in Poland recently, moving Emma Dyke to stroke seat and the experienced Rebecca Scown back toNo 2, and it worked a treat, producing a win - to rate a favourable mention in the esteemed Sports Illustrated Games predictions. The women are regarded a silver medal chance behind the perennial favourites the US in Rio.

Indeed SI lists New Zealand for eight medals in Rio, with golds for Drysdale and Murray and Bond, silvers for double scullers Robbie Manson and Chris Harris, the lightweight four, Twigg along with the eight; and two bronze from pair Rebecca Scown and Genevieve Behrent, and double scullers Zoe Stevenson and Eve Macfarlane.

When assessing medal chances, put Murray and Bond - unbeaten since coming together in 2009 - up at the top, and go from there.

"It is the culmination of a long four years and we just want to make sure we do as much as we can to give ourselves the best chance of putting in a good performance," Bond said recently.

The easiest way to look at it might be that the men's quad and eight will battle to reach the podium; the other nine are all in the frame, ranging from raging certs to good chances.

New Zealanders are right to have the rowers marked down as ready to be the highest achievers at Rio.

• Defending single sculling champion Mahe Drysdale will be first on the water in the powerful New Zealand rowing contingent in Rio. Drysdale's heats kick off New Zealand's Games at 11.25 tonight.

• New Zealand will contest 11 of the 14 Olympic classes and rate good medal chances in most of the disciplines.

• New Zealand rowers won five Olympic medals in London four years ago. Sports Illustrated tips them for eight this time, including golds for Drysdale and fellow London winners Eric Murray and Hamish Bond in the coxless pair.

NZ's rowing squad in Rio: Men:

Single scull, Mahe Drysdale
Double scull, Robbie Manson, Chris Harris
Pair, Eric Murray, Hamish Bond
Quad, Nathan Flannery, Jade Uru, George Bridgewater, John Storey
Lightweight four, Alistair Bond, Peter Taylor, James Lassche, James Hunter
Eight, Tom Murray, Michael Brake, Shaun Kirkham, Isaac Grainger, Joe Wright, Alex Kennedy, Brook Robertson, Stephen Jones, Caleb Shepherd (cox)

Women:

Single scull: Emma Twigg
Double scull: Eve Macfarlane, Zoe Stevenson
Pair: Genevieve Behrent, Rebecca Scown
Lightweight double scull, Sophie Mackenzie, Julia Edward
Eight: Kayla Pratt, Rebecca Scown, Genevieve Behrent, Kerri Gowler, Grace Prendergast, Kelsey Bevan, Ruby Tew, Emma Dyke, Francie Turner (cox)

- NZ Herald

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