Big boat part of plans for Rio Olympics

MOVE TO AN EIGHT? London Olympians Hamish Bond, Mahe Drysdale and Eric Murray.
MOVE TO AN EIGHT? London Olympians Hamish Bond, Mahe Drysdale and Eric Murray.

A men's eight to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games looms as part of Rowing New Zealand's future plans.

Rowing NZ wants to have boats in all 14 classes at Rio de Janeiro after contesting 11 classes at London this year, returning three gold and two bronze medals.

Gold medallists Mahe Drysdale, Eric Murray and Hamish Bond are among Rowing NZ's star performers pondering their future commitments, with a switch to an eight being a possibility to keep them motivated and fresh.

But Rowing NZ chief executive Simon Peterson said who featured in the eight would be the prerogative of their selection panel.

The organisation's high performance committee met last Friday to discuss a four-year plan toward the next Olympics and Peterson said there was "a strategic intent to have 14 boats in Rio".

That would mean adding men's and women's eights and a lightweight men's four to the current elite programme.

"It's exciting," Peterson said. "From my perspective I see it as the next stage of Rowing NZ's development. The programme's got to grow, otherwise there is nowhere for the athletes to come into."

Along with a stellar showing in London, Rowing NZ had unprecedented success at under-23 and junior level at world championships this year.

"The likes of Eric and Hamish, they may look to do something different in 2013," Peterson said. "But when it comes to 2014, knowing you've got to qualify in 2015 they'll have to start making decisions about how it works for them."

Rowing NZ have met seven London Olympic finalists in recent weeks but Peterson said "all seven of them are unsure of what they're doing".

"Their heads are still spinning - they just haven't had the mental break. The feeling is that they'll all come back, but they also know how hard the training regime is and they don't want to rush back. They can have until Christmas off if they need it."

The inclusion of larger boats will likely be floated in Rowing NZ's four-year plan to be presented to High Performance Sport New Zealand on November 1 as the organisation looks for increased funding following the London triumphs.

"That's hugely resource-intensive - you're talking about three more coaches, another 20-plus athletes. You're almost doubling your squad size. What we have got to be careful of strategically is that we got there because of a small boat strategy, and if we start talking large boat strategy that'll get pushed back to us, asking if it's the right thing to do.

"We're quite clear that the small boat strategy remains a priority, but larger boats are important long term for the junior athletes. The small boat strategy doesn't allow a lot of spaces."

Rowing NZ has a board meeting on October 10, and HPSNZ is expected to announce four-year funding plans in December which get reviewed annually.

Rowing NZ received $4.3 million each year for the past two years, plus an extra $500,000 last year, while its target for London was three medals.

"Post-Beijing, the twins [Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell] had just retired, George Bridgewater had retired, Nathan Twaddle was on the verge of retiring - so three medals was seen as quite sensible, and probably achievable," Peterson said. "So five, I think we all agree, was an outstanding result.

"We're in a very strong position to re-negotiate - the downside is it's going to be hard to match that expectation. Five medals . . . for any sport is stunning.

Peterson said the organisation "wasn't expecting a windfall". "It's really clear with us that there's no new money over the next couple of years. What I think they're saying is they'll fund less sports more."