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Only one Rio medallist in New Zealand elite squad

Only one Rio Olympic medallist will be represented in New Zealand's elite rowing ranks next year after the announcement of the summer training squad. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
Only one Rio Olympic medallist will be represented in New Zealand's elite rowing ranks next year after the announcement of the summer training squad. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

Only one Rio Olympic medallist will be represented in New Zealand's elite rowing ranks next year after the announcement of the summer training squad.

Rebecca Scown - a silver medallist in the pair and one of only three women alongside twin sisters Georgina Earl and Caroline Meyer to win two Games medals - has confirmed she will enter her 12th consecutive elite season. Her crewmate Genevieve Behrent is taking the year off.

New Zealand's three Rio gold medallists - single sculler Mahe Drysdale, and the pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray - are also treating 2017 as a sabbatical year.

Behrent will be 29, Bond 34, Scown 36, Murray 38 and Drysdale 41 by the Tokyo Olympics.

The absent quartet will forfeit an aggregate of $235,000 (pre-tax) in 2017 performance enhancement grants from High Performance Sport New Zealand.

"I'm definitely keeping an open mind," 33-year-old Scown said. "We also had high expectations in the women's eight [which finished fourth] at Rio. I'd love nothing more than to help get that boat on the podium in Tokyo."

Bond and Murray are pressing pause in their undefeated international partnership across 69 races, 24 regattas and eight seasons. They won two Olympic golds and six world championships in the discipline, in addition to their 2007 coxless four and 2014 coxed pair titles.

Murray will resume training after minor surgery on his knee, but will be unavailable for competition; Bond will take a 12-month break.

Both have hinted that joining the eight is an option beyond that. Bond's also seen as a single sculling candidate, a discipline in which he has beaten Drysdale at national level.

His cycling talent, finishing eighth in the Tour of Southland general classification this month, complicates the picture further.

Drysdale won his second Olympic gold by less than the width of bow ball at Rio, becoming New Zealand's oldest Olympic champion at 37 years, eight months and 25 days.

If he won at Tokyo, Drysdale would take over from Brit Harry Blackstaffe (London, 1908) as the oldest single sculling champion at a Games. Negotiations will also be required if he wants to continue his relationship with coach Dick Tonks, who parted ways with the governing body in acrimonious fashion during the Rio campaign.

Other former world champions having a spell include double scullers Zoe Stevenson and Eve Macfarlane, and quadruple sculler George Bridgewater.

Rowing New Zealand's development programme suggests a school of new athletes are ready to advance their Tokyo causes next year. Kiwis earned four medals at this year's under-23 world championships in Rotterdam, including a gold to the coxed four.

Upon return, any absent athletes will attend selection trials next September.

Crews might face some adjustment by then. World governing body FISA is convening an extraordinary congress in February to debate how they adjust the ratio of men's and women's Olympic crews from 8:6 to 7:7. Any proposed changes need to be ratified by the International Olympic Committee in June.

"We're comfortable with everyone taking a break," chief executive Simon Peterson said. "It's the right time, like what Mahe did after London in 2012."

Rowing New Zealand presents its case for future funding to High Performance Sport New Zealand on Tuesday. They aimed for five medals and returned three at Rio, but exceeded expectations in each of the other three years.

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