Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Rio Olympics 2016: Emma Twigg protests rowing conditions following win

Emma Twigg has protested the conditions the crews were forced to race in on the opening day of rowing at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Photo / Getty Images.
Emma Twigg has protested the conditions the crews were forced to race in on the opening day of rowing at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Photo / Getty Images.

Emma Twigg has protested the conditions the crews were forced to race in on the opening day of rowing at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Twigg was joined by Mahe Drysdale in blasting officials for not calling off the rowing when the wind picked up on the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, turning the regatta into a test of "survival rather than skill".

The choppy conditions saw one crew - Serbian pair Milos Vasic and Nenad Benik - capsize in the bacteria infested waters of the venue.

Despite comfortably winning her heat in the women's single sculls and advancing directly through to the quarterfinals, Twigg protested after crossing the finish line.

"After the race I put my hand up and protested, because I simply don't believe we should be racing in an Olympic Games conditions like that," said Twigg.

"It was very tricky, today it was more about surviving and not falling out, which is a shame when you come to the Olympics and your first heat is about staying in the boat as opposed to putting it all on the line."

"I don't believe we should be training for four years and putting ourselves through the training we do to go and race in conditions like that."

"What I've learned from the Olympic Games is that things will roll on and you have to deal with it and do the best you can," she told NZ Newswire.

"Everyone is aware there's scheduling and TV broadcasts and those sorts of things. They have demands on the sport and we have to be prepared to row."

Twigg says she is happy to compete if conditions are fair but not if reaches a farcical point.

"I've spoken to a lot of athletes in the boat park and they're as disappointed as I am.

"There's a difference between rowing in white caps and being able to race a really tough race.

"At what point is it about the athlete? No doubt the managers will be putting pressure on them tonight."

Drysdale, who was first up in the men's single sculls, said he missed the worst of the conditions, but still found it tough going.

"I think it is getting a little bit too dicey to still be racing, but it's just one of those things you've got to do what they tell you to do and I was happy to get my race out of the way before it really blew up," said Drysdale.

"When you see bows of boats going under the water and people not being able to row properly, you've got to draw the line somewhere."

Drysdale's fears proved founded, with the Serbian crew later capsizing - a rare occurrence in elite rowing.

Vasic and Benik overturned about halfway through their heat in the men's pair, which was easily won by New Zealand's Eric Murray and Hamish Bond.

Stunned and soaked, they clung to their boat as the other three crews continued toward the finish line. They will get another chance to advance to the semifinals though, as race officials decided to let them compete in the repechage.

Twigg's main rival, Australian world champion Kim Brennan, also struggled badly with the waves and cross-winds. She placed third in her heat, ending a winning streak dating back to 2014.

Brennan clearly seemed to lose her rhythm in the choppy waters of Lagoa Stadium which she deemed unraceable due to the wild chop and white capped waves.

"The general rule is (the meet is suspended) where there are white caps," Brennan told Australian media.

"We have breaking waves out there. I was pretty close to sinking."

Twigg said the results may produce some unexpected seedings heading into the latter stages of the regatta.

"We may have some few random draws given there was some different results in the other races, but that will all play out over the next few days.

Despite the challenging conditions, six of the seven New Zealand crews advanced through to the quarterfinals or semifinals, with only the men's quad, who got the call up to Rio only a month ago, failing to qualify directly from the heats. They will have another chance in the repechage rounds. Four more crews will race over the next few days.

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