Women's pair rivals seek edge at rowing championships

BACK TOGETHER: Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler team up for the first time this season at Lake Karapiro for the North ...

BACK TOGETHER: Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler team up for the first time this season at Lake Karapiro for the North Island club championships.

The intrigue surrounding the make-up of the country's top women's sweep-oar boats should grow at the North Island club championships starting today.

The premier women's pair event at the three-day regatta at Lake Karapiro will have a host of in-form rowers looking to gain an early edge ahead of the national championships and the following trials to select a team to contest the World Cup and world champs regattas in Europe later this year.

Kerri Gowler will team up with Grace Prendergast for the first time in competition this summer after the duo starred in their senior international debut season last year.

The combination won silver in their first World Cup regatta in the women's pair, convincingly won the world under-23 title and then joined up with Kayla Pratt and Kelsey Bevan to stun their rivals by winning gold in the four at the world champs in Amsterdam.

With the women's four not an Olympic event, the pair will become the priority boat for Rowing New Zealand's women's sweep programme for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. But a strong women's eight will be named following the trials at the start of March to contest the 2015 world champs in France that also double as the major qualifying regatta for Rio.

Gowler and Prendergast will be up against Genevieve Behrent and 2014 world champs bronze medallist Rebecca Scown, making for a notable final on Sunday. Behrent teamed up with Gowler at the recent Cambridge Town Cup to win gold in a stunning time of six minutes 50.63 seconds, with Scown and Prendergast just three seconds back, and Behrent also won the South Island club champs pair's title last weekend when combining with Scown.

Missing from the sweep action is Louise Trappitt, Scown's fellow bronze medallist in Amsterdam last year. She suffered a broken collarbone and concussion from a cycling accident on her first day back with the elite summer training squad late last year and appears unlikely to contest the national champs at Lake Ruataniwha later this month.

The high-calibre United States duo of Sara Hendershot and Taylor Ritzel will also contest the event, along with Pratt and Holly Greenslade and Bevan and Ruby Tew at a regatta which doubles as Rowing NZ's small-boat regatta - giving the winners of the single, pair and double events automatic entry into the national trials.

The premier men's single scull has again drawn a world-class field for the third regatta at Lake Karapiro over the summer.

Defending Olympic champion Mahe Drysdale took the title at the Cambridge Town Cup, heading home Robbie Manson - winner of the Christmas regatta title - and Hamish Bond, who won three singles finals last summer leading into the national champs.

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That trio will be joined by Bond's men's pair partner Eric Murray, George Bridgewater, John Storey, Chris Harris and Jade Uru.

The premier men's pair field includes lightweights James Hunter and James Lassche - fresh from winning the South Island title last weekend - taking on fellow lightweights Alistair Bond and Curtis Rapley and a bunch of combinations taken from the men's eight.

Sarah Gray and Lucy Spoors will go up against world champion lightweights Sophie MacKenzie and Julia Edward in the premier women's double scull while Robbie Manson teams up in the men's double with Jade Uru. They'll be up against Bridgewater and Harris and Storey and Karl Manson in another high-class field.

World champion double scullers Fiona Bourke and Zoe Stevenson meet in the premier women's single scull event, along with Edward, MacKenzie, Hendershot, Ritzel, Zoe McBride and Waikato RPC's Claudia Hyde.

 - Waikato Times

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