Rowing New Zealand must make tough call

18:16, Jul 16 2014
Kerri Gowler
YOUNG GUNS: The NZ under-23 crew of Kerri Gowler, pictured, and Grace Prendergast have won gold at the World Rowing Under-23 Championships in Varese, Italy.

It seems completely foolhardy to be critical of Rowing New Zealand right now.

The organisation's star-studded team were on top of the world following the third and final World Cup regatta of 2014 in Lucerne, winning a staggering six gold, one silver and two bronze medals.

That ensured they finished the Cup series as the top-scoring nation, ahead of superpower Great Britain, who have the advantage of far greater population and financial support.

Their athletes and coaches have excelled, so their hierarchy can rightly claim plenty of credit for steering the most ship-shape sporting outfit in the country.

But Rowing NZ have made a blunder of judgment that needs rectifying before the world championships - yet seems highly unlikely.

As foreshadowed by Fairfax Media last week, the selectors and high performance programme have allowed a situation to develop where their best boat in the women's pair won't be at the world champs in Amsterdam next month.


The NZ under-23 crew of Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast won silver in Lucerne and finished over five seconds ahead of the senior elite pair of Rebecca Scown and Louise Trappitt.

Yet Rowing NZ had already determined that the young guns would finish their season with a tilt at the world u-23 title in Italy later this month, while Scown and Trappitt head to Amsterdam.

That's despite the juniors clearly being the quicker boat - something borne out constantly by performances in training.

"The elite crew will go on to the world champs, " high performance manager Alan Cotter said last week.

When asked if the faster boat deserved a spot at Amsterdam, Cotter said: "The race hasn't been yet, you're getting ahead of yourself.''

Now it's the youngsters who are clearly ahead of the incumbents.

There's been a precedent this year to make a change - lightweight women's double sculler Lucy Strack was a late omission for the last two World Cup events due to lack of form, and has been replaced for the world champs by u-23 rower Sophie McKenzie.

The snubbing of the lightning-quick rookies - who twice pushed the Olympic champions close in Lucerne - has annoyed current and former Kiwi rowers.

2012 Olympic champion Joseph Sullivan took to Twitter on Sunday night, asking: ''Will @RowingNZ be sending Kerri Gowler & Grace Prendergast to both world champs as they deserve?''.

He's among many who believe the fastest boat is the best boat, and should be chosen regardless of age or status.

He has more reason than most to be belligerent about it too - the multiple world champ was cast aside by Rowing NZ when it was adjudged he wasn't up to standard.

Now not only is the superior crew being denied the chance at world championship glory, they're also being denied substantial funding from High Performance Sport New Zealand.

While Gowler and Prendergast go through the sausage sizzle route to pay their way to Italy, the slower boat - and athletes - in an Olympic class is receiving a healthy haul of taxpayer dollars.

To top off what's already been a wonderful year, Rowing NZ need to right the rudder and reward the top performers.