New Zealand's rowing rock stars get their first crack at a medal tonight at Eton Dorney, but unless Juliette Haigh and Rebecca Scown can find an extra gear it shapes as a long shot.
Haigh and Scown look to have their work cut out in tonight's final of the women's pair (10.50pm NZ time), if their heat performance is anything to go by. The Kiwis, though, are taking the view that the qualifying ride is irrelevant come final time.
"We've got another level to lift to in the final. Rhythmically and technically, there are a few things to work on and in the final is the time to put it together," said Haigh.
The Kiwis trailed Australia's pair of Kate Hornsey and Sarah Tait by over five seconds, while the history-chasing British duo of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning are considered the gold medal favourites after going close to the Olympic record in winning their heat. They are seeking to become the sport's first women gold medallists from the host nation.
The American pair of Sara Hendershot and Sarah Zelenka also looked sharp in the heats.
Haigh and Scown have the pedigree, no doubt, with back-to-back world championship crowns to testify to that. But their form has been scratchy this year and unless they can pull a rabbit out of the hat, a bronze might be their best possible outcome.
For the Kiwi double scull of Fi Paterson and Anna Reymer it's been a rocky journey over the last four months to get to the tranquil waters of Dorney Lake.
That's why the relief was almost palpable when they finally got their Olympic campaign under way on day three of the Games regatta on Monday, even if, in the process, they got themselves an up-close look at the power and precision of the British double of Anna Watkins and Katherine Grainger.
There's a real theme developing at this regatta of Brits standing in the way of Kiwi success, but never mind that for now. The New Zealand tandem didn't have to beat the Brits anyway to take the direct passage to Friday's final. All they had to do was come in second, which they managed with a modicum of comfort, shading the Chinese by around half a boat-length.
That, in the final accounting, left them somewhere between satisfied and ecstatic as they reflected on a buildup that has been disrupted, to say the least.
“We've had a bit of a rocky last four months, having turns being ill at different times,” said Paterson after a race in which they were happy to let the gold medal favourites make all the running. “Now, finally, we're kinda up together at the same time, which is quite exciting.”
Not that these two are unused to a few hard yards. Paterson, from Central Otago, has survived cervical cancer, while Reymer had to sit out the 2010 season recovering from back surgery. On this trip it's just been “bugs and a bit of fatigue”, but they're happy to be back on top of things as they chase a realistic medal on Friday.
Reymer said the key in the heat had been to resist going after the Brits. “They're a bloody fast crew and we didn't want to get sucked into basically killing ourselves,” said the Cambridge born-and-bred sculler.
The goal going in had been to “minimise” racing by avoiding the repechage, and they felt hugely satisfied they had achieved that. Meanwhile, the men's quad scull of John Storey, Michael Arms, Matthew Trott and Robert Manson were feeling much better about life after a repechage performance they believe has them back on track. They'd been disappointed to finish last in their heat, and came out with clear goals which were mostly all ticked off as they bolted to an all-the-way victory, and a spot in today's semis.
“We had a few technical things we wanted to implement after the heat,” said Trott, “and it was a really good opportunity to do that with not so much pressure on. We wanted to do it as comfortably as we could to save ourselves for the semi, and we achieved.”
- Fairfax Media