New Zealand's rowing prowess is under threat with the return of one medal from the opening day of finals at the world championships in Bulgaria.

Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast swept to a silver in the pair as they sought to defend their 2017 title.

Their combination was already the most successful in the New Zealand squad, and they demonstrated that authority by moving into the lead over the first 500m.

However, Canadian rivals Caileigh Filmer and Hillary Janssens tracked them down to triumph by 2.29 seconds. Spain were 11.64s further adrift in third.


The new champions, who are mentored by former Rowing New Zealand coach Dave Thompson, had beaten the Kiwis by 1.75s in the semi-finals and came within 0.43s of victory at the World Cup in Lucerne.

"We raced them in the semi-finals and got dropped at the start so we knew we had to put a better first 500m together," Prendergast said.

"It was a fast pace and then it was close the whole way, but they inched away in the third and fourth quarters."

"They are a fast crew, and that's exciting for our event," Gowler added.

"We did everything we set out to do [as part of the race strategy]."

The result added to a Gowler-Prendergast CV which includes silver in the pair and eight in 2015, and gold in the coxless four in 2014.

The other four New Zealand finalists missed the podium.

Lightweight women's double scullers Zoe McBride and Jackie Kiddle - Gowler and Prendergast's training partners – finished sixth, 7.08s off winners Romania. Their male counterparts Matthew Dunham and Ben Van Dalen finished fourth, 8.55s off victors Ireland, and the men's pair of Michael Brake and Tom Murray finished fifth, 6.58s off Croatia. The men's quad of Lewis Hollows, Cameron Crampton, Nathan Flannery and Mahe Drysdale finished fourth, missing a medal by 0.11s.


There are three finalists to come in the form of single sculler Robbie Manson, and the last year's respective men's and women's double sculls world champions Chris Harris and John Storey, and Olivia Loe and Brooke Donoghue.

The last time New Zealand secured less than four medals at a world championships was in 2003. They secured four gold in 2005 and Kiwi rowing supremacy has been consistent in some capacity since.

Rowing New Zealand will receive $5.1 million in taxpayer funding this year to maintain its high performance programme.

Gowler and Prendergast's silver medal means they have added to a legacy in the pair stretching back to 2004.

Since Nicky Coles and Juliette Haigh (now Drysdale) combined for the Athens Olympics, New Zealand have never missed the final at the pinnacle event of a season. A Kiwi crew has medalled at every world championships and Olympics from 2009.

There have been five transitions since – Scown and Haigh, to Scown and Emma-Jane Feathery, to Scown and Haigh, to Scown and Pratt, to Scown and Louise Trappitt, to Gowler and Prendergast – but the consistency remains.

The incumbent duo loom as podium contenders at Tokyo 2020 in a discipline where New Zealand secured medals at the last two Games.

Gowler said while newly-minted quad crew member Drysdale remains the most experienced rower in the squad, they're respecting the senior status imbued by their achievements.

"Obviously we've still got Mahe who we'd go to for advice, but people do ask us questions and we give them any knowledge we've got."

That knowledge might come in handy as the campaign wraps up.

World championship medals won by Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast

2014 – coxless four, gold
2015 – coxless pair, silver
2015 – eight, silver
2017 – coxless pair, gold
2018 – coxless pair, silver