Andrew Alderson: Rowing funding levels under threat

Emma Twigg is rowing for gold overnight. Photo / AP
Emma Twigg is rowing for gold overnight. Photo / AP

New Zealand's mercurial rowing performances at the Rio Olympics are sure to generate a post-Games combination of pom-pom wielding and furrowed brows in the country's corridors of sporting power.

Redemption came overnight with Mahe Drysdale's miraculous gold in the single sculls, but the governing body's aim of securing five medals fell short. Emma Twigg and both eights could not boost the sport's haul beyond the five earned at the 2012 Games. The focus of the latter two crews is probably on Tokyo 2020, but silver to the women's eight at last year's world championships offered premature hope.

The rowing programme's funding levels will be under threat for the first time in years.

The governing body and its athletes received $32.069 million of taxpayer investment across the Rio cycle, according to an HPSNZ summary, yet they have failed to match London's three gold-two bronze colour mix.

Rowing bosses will claim some medals weigh more than others as they seek long-term success in bigger boats. A maiden medal in the women's eight would have been an achievement to savour, as would a first medal in a men's eight since bronze in 1976.

Fourth and sixth in those respective finals were credible efforts.

The flipside is that four years from London the sport is relying on their same blue chip 30-something stocks - Drysdale, Eric Murray, Hamish Bond and Rebecca Scown - to secure glory.

Drysdale's victory meant he gained the mantle of being New Zealand's oldest Olympic champion at 37 years, eight months and 25 days.

However, Twigg's well-documented problems with the governing body saw her miss the 2015 season on study leave. Nothing, not even her then-stature as world champion, could shake Rowing New Zealand's ethos that athletes must work within the centralised programme. Twigg had to qualify the single sculls boat at Lucerne's regatta of death in May. How much did that impact when the governing body needed her to peak again and deliver a medal in August? Instead she suffered the anguish of finishing fourth at successive Games.

Similarly Scown's silver medal pair crewmate Behrent spent time out of the programme in 2014 before returning refreshed and resurgent to pitch for Rio last year.

The performance of some crews also need scrutiny. The ambitious and commendable aim of qualifying 14 boat classes was not met. Eventually 11 boats qualified which filtered into eight finalists and three medallists.

Outside those who stand on the podium, the next layer of performance needs to be plumbed and questions asked.

Why did defending world champions Zoe Stevenson and Eve Macfarlane bow out of the double sculls semifinals?

Why did defending world champions Julia Edward and Sophie MacKenzie slip to fourth in the lightweight double sculls final?

Why did men's double scullers Robbie Manson and Chris Harris miss their final, despite winning their final World Cup at Poznan in their build-up?

The lightweight four of James Hunter, James Lassche, Peter Taylor and Alistair Bond also face introspection considering the crew had earned two world championship silvers and a fourth since 2013 and won both this season's World Cups. They came fifth in their Rio final.

Rowing New Zealand must also now address how to fill the void created by Dick Tonks. Tonks, after 17 years' employment and many others volunteering, exited a side door this morning after the completion of his charge Drysdale's race. He won one or more gold medals at each Olympics in which he was employed.

- NZ Herald

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