Jack Lopas has just returned from the World Rowing Junior Championships with a gold medal hanging around his neck, and he is straight into NCEA study. Bridget Rutherford spoke to him about beating his crewmate at Maadi Cup, and holding the unofficial national record for his 2km ergometer.

So you've just won gold in the double sculls - how does it feel to be a world champion?

I've actually been asked that a lot, but it's kind of hard because it doesn't really feel that much different. It's a funny feeling thinking you're the top in the world in your event.

Can you run me through the race?

It was really rough at race time, so we had to take that into account. We've always been a bit slower off the start, so we just stuck to our guns and focused on our middle kilometre. We took the lead in the third 500m just after the 1km mark, which is where we wanted that to happen.

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What was running through your mind at the start line, were you nervous?

I was the most nervous in the heats because you don't know what to expect. I was a bit shaky, and with the rough conditions it was another thing resting on your mind.

What about when you crossed the finish line?

It was a huge relief for all that stress to be over and not having to worry about the result. It was a pretty unreal feeling. It's painful during the race but after winning you feel like it wasn't too bad and it was all worth it.

Did you have a bit of a chance to catch up with some of the competitors from the other countries you were racing afterwards?

We caught up with the Italy and Germany crews on the podium, and you have a big shirt swap with the other countries. A lot of them will return to other world champs. I talked to a couple of guys from last year as well.

So this is your second year of competing at juniors?

Yep, I was in the reserve double last year. We still raced and got second in the B final. It was good motivation to come back this year, and it makes it a lot easier racing once you've done it already. You have a bit more experience.

When did you begin rowing?

I started at the end of third form. I've done four years of it now.

So you were at Lincoln High School before shifting to Christchurch Boys' High School, why the shift?

It was for the rowing - I was the only rower at Lincoln, so I was doing it once a week down at Kerrs Reach with one other. I started at boys' high in 2013 - in year 10. My mum and dad both rowed and I have a couple of uncles who did, and my granddad rowed for New Zealand. So I thought I might do it. I enjoyed doing it by myself, but I felt like I needed to be doing it with a group. My parents both rowed at club level and got a couple of national medals.

And you would have been to a couple of Maadi Cups, how did you go in those?

I've been to three. I didn't make Maadi in my first year. But in my first season competing I got a bronze in the under-16 quadruple sculls and then the next year I got silver in the under-17 double sculls, under-17 quadruple sculls and in the under-18 quadruple sculls. In my last season this year, I got gold in the under-18 single, double and quad, and a bronze in the under-18 eight.

At Maadi the under-18 eights are the big races to win - which medal did you enjoy winning the most?

I think the quad. I was the most excited after winning it because it's a group of four mates who train together the whole season.

What's your favourite boat to race?

I'd say the double; I've always clicked in the double.

And you're the national record holder for your age group for the 2km erg, that's pretty impressive, what was your time?

I don't know if it's actually official, but I pulled 5min 57sec. I've always progressed with each erg, I've never gone backwards.

You beat Olympic champion Hamish Bond's time didn't you?

I pulled faster than Hamish Bond's time when he was my age. I think Eric Murray and Hamish Bond pull around the 5min 42sec mark.

Jack Lopas has just returned from the World Rowing Junior Championships. Photo / Christchurch Star
Jack Lopas has just returned from the World Rowing Junior Championships. Photo / Christchurch Star

Do you remember what your very first erg was in your novice season?

It was 7min 50sec. I wouldn't say the 2km erg is the worst part of rowing, but it's not very enjoyable. It gets blown up to be such a big thing.

So you're from Little River aren't you?

Yes, I live about 4km from the township on a lifestyle block. I actually went into Little River School when I got back, because my mum teaches there and had been keeping the kids updated. I went in and had a chat to all the kids and took in my medal. I went there from year 1-8, and my younger brother is still there.

How many siblings do you have?

I've got an older sister and three younger brothers. We are quite a big rugby family, all of my brothers made Ellesmere representative teams and two of them made Canterbury Country teams.

Do you play rugby yourself?

I used to play, last year was the first year since I was four that I haven't played because I couldn't due to juniors. I did miss it, I was watching all of my brothers' games. I was playing prop in the Boys' High 16As before I stopped playing.

Training must take up a lot of your time, can you run me through the training you do?

We probably do 10-12 trainings a week. We always have Sunday's off. But we train most mornings and some afternoons we have two trainings. So we might do one gym session and one session on the water on an afternoon. You get into the swing of it. It's a similar number of trainings to school rowing, but it's just a lot more intense, and there is a bigger picture to it.

And you go up and train in Cambridge leading up to the junior champs don't you?

After you get selected you come back down for two months and do your own training, then you go back up for two months for training. I was lucky because I had done it before, but you do miss being at home with your family and at school.

And by the sound of your training schedule you will be eating your mum out of house and home, how much do you have to eat to fuel your body?

She does notice the difference. But I have three brothers so they eat a lot too. You just have to chuck in more pasta and potatoes. Up north we would eat two breakfasts and a full lunch and a big dinner, then a couple of extra bits in the middle, like a banana and honey sandwich or something.

So what about your double partner, did you know him before this year?

I met him last year at Maadi, he beat me in all three of those events I got silver in. He was in juniors last year as well. But I versed him this year at Maadi and beat him in all three events and he got silver in all of them. So it was quite funny.

What are your goals with rowing?

I think one day I do want to compete at the Olympics but that's quite a few years away and there's a long road ahead.

Where did you compete last year? You must have to do a fair bit of fundraising to get over there?

It was in Rio last year. We did have to do fundraising, I had a Givealittle page. The support I got from the Little River community was just so good. I came straight back from Rotterdam this year to get back to school.

So you're in your last year of school currently, have you decided what you will do when you finish?

I think I'll focus on this next rowing season, and make a decision then.

And when you're not rowing, or training or at school, what you like to do in your spare time?

I do a lot of work for granddad in Clarkville, just helping him out. And hanging out with my brothers - I try to get to as much of their sport as I can, because they make it to mine. But between school and rowing, there's not a lot of spare time.