New Zealand's women rowers have shone once again at the world championships, capping off an impressive regatta with two gold medals and a silver this morning in Austria.
Brooke Donoghue and Olivia Loe triumphed in the women's double sculls, before the women's eight claimed an exceptional victory, making it four gold medals for female Kiwi crews after the women's pair and lightweight women's double stood atop the podium the day before. Emma Twigg added a silver medal in the singles sculls, to go with the silver claimed by the men's pair of Thomas Murray and Michael Brake.
The haul of gold medals will be a boon to Rowing New Zealand after their struggles last year where they failed to claim a single gold. Four golds is the most New Zealand have claimed at a world championships since 2015, while the return by women's crews, in particular, is their best in world championship history, narrowly edging the four golds and one bronze claimed by in 2014.
Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler will be travelling home with two gold medals, after the successful women's pair combination backed up their success as members of the eight, who claimed world championship glory for the first time.
They had to hunt down a fast-starting Australian crew to do so, with their trans-Tasman rivals leading for the first 1500 metres, but New Zealand utterly dominated the final quarter, roaring past Australia and rowing away for a victory by nearly three seconds.
Also timing their race perfectly was the pairing of Donoghue and Loe, who claimed their third consecutive world championship medal. The 2017 world champions finished second last year, but added a second gold to their resumes by picking through the field with expertise. Traditionally slower starters, the duo were fifth through 500 metres and third at the halfway mark, and eventually won comfortably by 1.4 seconds over the fast-finishing Romanian crew.
Loe said they executed their plan to perfection.
"That was all a bit of a blur. We really took control in the middle of the race and as we managed to hold our own and push towards the finish. That was always the plan. I never tried to look out the boat so I had to assume everyone was behind me. This title will be great for our confidence. We'll look to keep improving towards the Olympics but I believe we're in a good position."
Twigg experienced the opposite emotions, charging out to a lead in her singles sculls final before being reeled in. The 2014 world champion had a two-second advantage at the halfway mark, but Ireland's Sanita Puspure overcame a slow start out of the blocks to halve that lead by the 1500 metre mark, and eventually peg back a flagging Twigg to win by 3.4 seconds.
However, considering Twigg only returned to the sport this season, she had more than enough reasons to smile.
"I knew it was going to be a real tough one out there. I know Sanita has some form, so I just had to be brave. I came up a little short today, but this being my comeback season after two years away, it has been a great season."
The news was gloomier for the men's eight, who finished sixth in their final and missed out on qualification for the Tokyo Olympics by 0.5 of a second. There are two final qualifying spots available in the last-chance qualification regatta in Lucerne in May, but it is uncertain whether Rowing New Zealand will send boats to Switzerland.
Also uncertain is the future makeup of the crew, with the boat's star names – Hamish Bond and Mahe Drysdale – potentially set to eye other opportunities, especially after New Zealand qualified a boat for the singles sculls.
Robbie Manson came from last at the halfway stage and fourth with 500 metres to go, unleashing a powerful sprint to win his B final and qualify the boat for Tokyo. Whether it will be Manson sitting in the boat remains to be seen, with his poor performance in Austria likely to lead to challengers for his spot in the New Zealand trials next year.
John Storey and Chris Harris also qualified a boat for the Olympics in the men's doubles sculls, taking New Zealand's tally to nine boats heading to Tokyo.