Rowers return to London with sights on Rio
A new-look New Zealand team returns to the scene of their London Olympic triumphs with eyes on Rio 2016.
The NZ team to contest the second World Cup regatta of the season starting at Eton Dorney tomorrow night (NZ time) features a number of changes from the one that captured three gold and two bronze at last year's Olympics.
Joseph Sullivan, gold medalist in the men's double sculls with Nathan Cohen, will take over the single sculls seat from another London winner, Mahe Drysdale. Cohen is part of the men's quad, while Hamish Bond and Eric Murray will look to stretch their unbeaten record that culminated in last year's triumph at the venue.
Rebecca Scown teamed up with Juliette Haigh to win bronze in London but with Haigh now retired, Kayla Pratt has joined Scown in the women's pair, while Peter Taylor has become part of the men's lightweight quad after lightweight pair crewmate Storm Uru took a break from the sport following their bronze at the 2012 Games.
The 10 Kiwi boats scheduled to contest the regatta are out to make an impression ahead of the final World Cup event in Lucerne next month and the world champs in South Korea at the end of August. However, the long-term goal for all of them is the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The initial signs for a swag of new combinations has been encouraging. New Zealand captured eight medals - five gold, a silver and two bronze - at the opening World Cup regatta in Sydney in March.
However, most top European rowing nations rated the regatta as too early in the season, too far away and too expensive to bother with. So the next three days should provide a greater gauge of how the Kiwis are progressing.
Along with changes in personnel, there have been moves within Rowing New Zealand's coaching set-up. Former head coach Dick Tonks now oversees the women's programme and former Australian guru Noel Donaldson is in charge of the men's sweep oar rowers, which includes Bond and Murray.
That all-conquering pair should remain unbeaten, with neither of their nearest challengers at the Olympics competing this week. Great Britian were third in London and will enter two crews in the pair but neither featuring last year's bronze medallists, while 2012 runners-up France have also opted for a new combination.
Scown and Pratt will be up against the top Great Britain combination of Polly Swann and Helen Glover, with Swann replacing Heather Stanning from last year's gold medal-winning boat. Australia's pair comprises of Tess Gerrand and Katrina Bateman, instead of last year's silver medalists Kate Hornsey and Sarah Tait.
Sullivan will look to put a rocky year behind him in the single scull. He was left out of the initial squad that was named for Sydney, and while he would prefer to be part of the quad, the 26-year-old and fellow squad member Nathan Flannery will contest the single sculls event.
Drysdale has only recently returned to training and wants to contest the trials later this year for the team to be named for the world champs.
While Sullivan has struggled for form this year, he has an impeccable track record of success at the top level. He won back-to-back single sculls golds at world under-23 champs in 2007 and 2008, gold in the double in 2009 and when he jumped to senior level with Cohen, they won gold at the world champs in 2010 and 2011 before triumphing at last year's Olympics.
Czech Republic star Ondrej Synek, silver medalist behind Drysdale last year, and bronze medalist Alan Campbell (Great Britain) will be his major rivals.
- © Fairfax NZ News