If Emma Twigg wins gold at the rowing world championships in Bled, Slovenia, she might dedicate the victory to the humble 'custard chucker'.

Many New Zealand crews might do the same. The delicate pastries filled with custard and smothered in a layer of milk chocolate have been a staple in the squad's base in Mechelen, Belgium. Each crew has felt a sense of entitlement to stuff their faces with the treats after rowing the equivalent of about a marathon a day in training before their recent taper. That's 20km in the morning - with speed work - followed by 20km in the afternoon to 'build endurance'. Such is the fatigue of Rowing New Zealand's three-month European expedition that the pastries' nuances have often been a core part of daily dinner conversation.

Yet Twigg, 24, whose first race is tonight, can thank more than just custard chuckers for her rise through the sport. The single sculler is a poster girl for the values of identification and investment over several years.

She won the junior world championships in 2005, moved to the women's eight as a 19-year-old in 2006 for her first senior tour, went back on her own to win the under-23 world championships in 2007 and found herself finishing sixth in an elite world championships final later that year.


At the Beijing Olympics, she regressed to finish third in the B final but it has been a steady rise since - fourth at the 2009 world championships, a bronze medal last year at home and a first World Cup regatta win in Lucerne last month.

Twigg could be world champion by the end of next weekend. She has always been ambitious but even a silver or bronze in Slovenia will mean her Olympic dream of London gold remains in firm focus.

Twigg has been the youngest genuine contender in the field for some time against formidable rivals like double Olympic and six-time world champion Ekaterina Karsten of Belarus and 2010 world champion Frida Svensson.

The catalyst for change may have come in Twigg's World Cup win into a headwind down the Rotsee in Lucerne last month. She led through each of the 500m trigger points over the 2km, signalling she now has the ability to control races. Previously she was grateful to scrap to the end - as when she clung on for bronze at Lake Karapiro in November.

"We're making baby steps, putting it all together," Twigg says referring to her and coaching guru Dick Tonks. "It was a big confidence boost taking those scalps at Lucerne. It was unusual and I was surprised to be in that position. Putting fear into some of the older girls is reassuring. Finally managing to beat Karsten regularly is a step forward.

"If you look at last year's world championships when I had to come from behind, it's a better position to be in."

Tonks, famous for his reticence, is relatively confident: "Emma has the pedigree. She has had a good, steady career. She ran out of steam 100m from the line last year but was still challenging in the last 500m.

"There's a certain advantage being in front all the way. It takes an exceptional athlete to keep their composure coming from behind. It's all about being in front, relaxing and controlling the race."