The grand finale, most prestigious and largest event of the New Zealand Summer Rowing Season, the 2018 Aon Maadi Cup, or NZ Secondary School Rowing Championship regatta, is on this week.
Starting yesterday and finishing on Saturday, with Sunday morning a spare in case of weather delays, the Maadi Cup is being held on Lake Ruataniwha, near Twizel in the beautiful MacKenzie Country.
A record 2283 secondary school rowers entered from 120 schools and makes this remarkable event the largest secondary schools event in the Southern Hemisphere.
Students will compete in a total of 500 races from Under 15 to Under 18 age groups, as well as Novice Under 18 level, and it is a huge logistical exercise to transport and accommodate the students, their coaches and support team, the officials and the expected 10,000 supporters on the banks of Lake Ruataniwha for the finals this Friday and Saturday.
Quite simply, Twizel is abuzz with fit young people and their supporters, with a huge boost to the local and regional economy.
The 2018 Maadi Cup is the first year that Lightweight rowing has been removed from the regatta due to health and safety concerns for school students, with clear evidence and expert advice that students who diet to make weight limits can have detrimental effects on their long term health.
As a former international lightweight rower I endorse that decision, and although it does make it more difficult for lighter and smaller athletes to make finals and win medals, well-trained and capable smaller rowers do final and medal – right up to Olympic level.
Whanganui will be represented by Whanganui High School (WHS), Wanganui Collegiate School (WCS), Whanganui Girls College (WGC) and Cullinane College (CC), with similar entries to the recently completed Rocket Foods North Island Secondary School Rowing Championships at Lake Karapiro.
In reality, it is a huge challenge for crews which failed to make an A Final at North Island to step into an A Final at Maadi, with the added entries of the strong South Island crews.
But this is a new regatta and it can and will happen.
Our rowers and clubs have had the added challenge of a flooded river, with Aramoho RC having to lift their boats to higher ground as the lower main boat storage area flooded, while Union BC and Collegiate face clean ups for mud and silt.
It's how teams manage those challenges that defines them.
WHS has been quietly working away under head coach Pedro Figueira.
They smartly utilised Pauri Lake for a few days while Whanganui River was in flood for some vital lake preparation, prior to leaving for Maadi.
They will have high hopes for their Girls Under 16-17 Coxed Quadruple Sculls Crews – with Zeal Brewer, Mikayla Manville and cox Niamh Mullany in both those boats, and Niamh Murphy and Ella Dudley included in the Under 16 North Island silver medal-winning crew.
Niamh Monk and Jamie Bridger are the other members the Under 17 North Island bronze medal crew.
The light but fast Levi Carroll will be chasing a medal again in the fiercely competitive Under 18 single, along with Collegiate's Loftus Stanford and Jonty Wright.
Carroll and Jonty Thomson will be trying to reverse the placing and grab a medal in the Boys Under 18 Double Scull against Stanford and Wright, but both crews will firstly be aiming for A final berths.
Monk and Bridger will be a very competitive combination in the Girls Under 17 double and the rest of the WHS squad are well trained with crews to watch out for – now and in the future.
Cullinane's experienced Donny Thompson and Kurt Browning will also give making an A final in the Under 18 boys Double a good nudge, and Neo Tichbon in the Under 16 single will be determined to crack into the A final.
Their other rowers will gain from the Maadi experience and will be hoping to cause the odd upset.
WGC will be placing its bets on the Under 18 Novice double combination of Piper Neil and Leigha Stormont, with Bella Duncan, Brittney Robertson and cox Siena McLean joining them in an exhibition Girls Under 18 Novice Coxed Quadruple sculls.
They will be determined to repeat their A final performance of North Island championships.
WCS has the biggest squad of 30 rowers, entered in 31 events heading to Maadi.
Going on North Island results, the strongest medal chances may be in the Boys Under 16 double and coxed quadruple sculls, as well as Loftus Stanford in under 18 single and Jamie Harris in the equivalent girls event, while the Girls Under 18 double is also a prospect.
WCS will be hoping the big girls and boys Under 17 eights can lift from their fourth placings at North Islands, as well as the Under 18 boys double, Under 17 and 18 girls coxed four, and many other of its numerous A Finals placings at the North Island regatta.
Head coach Dave Lindstrom appears to have a high risk strategy with a number of students entered in between 4-6 events, when both Rowing NZ and the NZ Secondary School Rowing Council recommend a maximum of three events for school age rowers, due to many events needing heats, repercharges, quarterfinals and semifinals, before even reaching the final.
To keep that in perspective, it is very rare for an elite NZ Rower to compete in more than one event at a World or Olympic Games, due to the incredibly physiological stress a 2km race puts the body under.
Best wishes to all our hard working Maadi rowers.
Whanganui is proud of you, so enjoy and give it your best shot. You can tune into Aon Maadi Livestream from Thursday to Saturday this week.