School crews in top gear

ROWING MENTORS: Rob Ansell and Allan Tong are Wentworth College’s coaches.
ROWING MENTORS: Rob Ansell and Allan Tong are Wentworth College’s coaches.

Allan Tong rowed for the inaugural Maadi Cup against three New Zealand secondary schools in 1947.

On Saturday, the 83-year-old Wentworth College rowing coach returns to the competition in Twizel with 20 students eager to follow in his footsteps.

Tong didn't win the Maadi Cup, but pushed on to be a semi-finalist in the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games.

He's hoping the Wentworth College rowers, coached by himself and Rob Ansell, a 53-year-old teacher at the school, can go one step further than he did.

Twice daily in the lead-up to the regatta, the duo drill the school's rowers on the Weiti River either side of fitness and stamina training on rowing machines.

They'll be up against many bigger schools in the week-long regatta, which has grown from four crews competing in one race in 1947 to 1400 crews going head-to-head in 500 races this year.

With more than 2000 students competing, it is regarded as one of the largest school events in the Southern Hemisphere.

"We've got 20 kids in our squad and we're rowing against schools which have got 100 kids," Tong says.

The Evelyn Page Retirement Village resident has passed his love of rowing through generations.

Son Ross won a bronze medal in the coxed four in 1984 at the Los Angeles Games and is now director of sports at St John's College in Hamilton, where he coaches rowing.

Another son, Bruce, is Wentworth College principal, and a former rowing master at Westlake Boys High School.

"Rowing is a major sport and I wanted to set it up here," Bruce says.

Wentworth College's fleet of rowing boats has flourished since he helped launch a rowing club six years ago.

Hand-me-downs from Auckland rowing clubs have been replaced by state-of-the-art boats funded by parents, grants and sponsorships.

"We've got a pretty good racing stable now," Allan says. "We've had two new boats every year for the last three years.

"The school has a heck of a good parents committee which works hard for the kids."

Student rowers will stay in "rustic accommodation" in a sheep station near Lake Ruataniwha and attend a pre-regatta parade through Twizel on Saturday.

Although there are 50 events in the regatta, the most coveted trophy for the Wentworth boys is the Maadi Cup for the winner of the under-18 eight and for the girls it's the Dawn Cup for the winners of the under-18 four.

Coverage of the Maadi Cup will be streamed online at and highlights will screen on SKY Sport.

Rodney Times