Rowing New Zealand has reportedly ended efforts to send one of its most highly-touted boats to the Tokyo Olympics, despite it already being qualified to take part.
The reigning world champion lightweight women's double pairing was struck by a cruel blow in March when Zoë McBride was forced to retire due to long-term hormonal damage as a result of eating too little for her training demands while trying to stay below the weight requirement for the class.
That understandable decision left her race partner Jackie Kiddle with an empty seat in her boat; which Rowing NZ tried to fill over the past month to no avail, according to 1 News.
Several options were trialled in the boat, most notably former lightweight double sculls rower and 2016 Olympic contender Lucy Strack.
Strack and Kiddle undertook almost two weeks of training together before simulating a race meet on Lake Karapiro to determine their relative speed against the world's best.
"We rolled into racing, we were at the start line, I gave Jackie a bit of a pat on the back and I said let's go for it, let's see what we can do," Strack told 1 News.
"I have to say I went into the [pain] tunnel pretty quickly," she joked.
"So about 500 metres in I was supposedly breathing pretty hard at this point, but actually managed to bounce back pretty well in the second kilometre."
However, their efforts proved to be in vain as, soon after, Rowing NZ made the decision to withdraw the boat from Olympic competition.
For Kiddle, it was the second major blow in a month, after McBride's retirement. Her coach James Coote sympathised with an athlete who had been on top of the world in 2019.
"It is gutting, but it is also sport and it's also life as well. They're both high achievers, they've both got huge standards in themselves and their health is number one first, in terms of Zoë. But then Jackie also making sure she can compete at a level she wants to," Coote said.
Kiddle has now decided to race solo in the lightweight women's single class and is eyeing competing at the 2024 Paris Olympics, though she says the distraction of the Tokyo event will be hard to avoid in the coming months.
"The next few months are absolutely going to be tough and I'm well aware of that and I'm preparing myself for that, but I'm incredibly supportive of my team.
"I haven't raced in a lightweight women's single for a while, not since 2014 when I did the under-23s. So, it is a new challenge, but I'm quite excited about it."