2013 review: Kiwis still among the world's best

IAN ANDERSON
Last updated 11:00 26/12/2013
Mahe Drysdale
Getty Images
DEFEATED: Mahe Drysdale failed to reached the single sculls semifinals at the rowing world championship in South Korea, finishing fourth in his quarterfinal race.
Ricki Herbert
Fairfax NZ
OFF HE GOES: Ricki Herbert says goodbye to the All Whites fans at the end of his last game in charge of New Zealand.

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The year following an Olympic Games is traditionally a transition one for rowing but Rowing New Zealand probably didn't expect 2013 to be as turbulent as it was.

Yet despite some unforeseen upheavals, the organisation still emerged with five medals at the world championships and a healthy eye on more success at the 2016 Olympics.

Juliette Haigh was the most high-profile retirement following the 2012 London Olympics, while fellow bronze medallist Storm Uru chose to further his academic career.

Mahe Drysdale, the gold medal winner in the men's single scull, took an extended break that eventually proved more costly than he first thought, while Joseph Sullivan, who teamed up with Nathan Cohen to win gold in the double sculls at Eton Dorney, took a shorter hiatus that also spelled bad news.

Drysdale returned to training mid-year in an attempt to retain his title at the world championships in Chungju, South Korea in September. But a lack of conditioning, and a cycling accident in training before the regatta, which produced a broken rib, meant he was unable to advance past the quarterfinals.

Sullivan was ruled not fit enough to be part of the New Zealand team for the opening World Cup regatta of the year, in Sydney in March. He was later named as Drysdale's substitute for the next two World Cup events in the single scull, but struggled before announcing that he would sit out the world championships.

Cohen was part of the New Zealand men's quad this year, which was off the pace before he suffered a heart problem that forced him to withdraw from the boat after the heats at the world championships. It left him pondering how to fix the problem.

Rowing NZ still produced new world-class crews at short notice, however, with the women's double sculls combination of Fiona Bourke and Zoe Stevenson and their men's counterparts, Michael Arms and Robbie Manson, making big impressions.

In their first year together, Bourke and Stevenson began with a win in Sydney and were pipped for gold by their Lithuanian rivals by just 0.02 seconds at the final World Cup regatta, in Lucerne.

The Kiwis looked poised for revenge at the worlds as they led in the dying stages of the final, only to be agonisingly run down in the last strokes by Lithuania to finish second 0.04sec behind.

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Arms and Mason took over where Sullivan and Cohen left off, winning all three World Cup events, but their perfect season ended in Chungju, where they could only manage sixth in their final, after Arms had been hampered by a back injury for the previous month.

Peter Taylor, who won bronze in London with Uru in the lightweight double sculls, switched to the lightweight four this year and, along with Curtis Rapley, James Lassche and James Hunter, won all three World Cup events before capturing silver at the worlds.

The new women's pair combination of Rebecca Scown and Kayla Pratt capped a fine first season together with bronze in Chungju, while women's single sculler Emma Twigg shone to win silver.

Amid the changes, there was one predictable constant - the dominance of the men's pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray.

The London Olympic gold medallists easily won the two World Cup events they contested and then crushed their rivals at the worlds to claim a new world record of 16 consecutive victories for any boat at Olympic, world championship and World Cup level.

The gold medal-winning performance of the Kiwi men's eight at the world under-23 championships capped the most prolific year yet for Rowing NZ crews at world U23 and junior championships, providing a further boost for plans to contest every Olympic class in Rio.

- Fairfax Media

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