Haigh's back where she belongs
After a year away Juliette Haigh had a lot to prove at Karapiro yesterday, Ian Anderson reports.
Juliette Haigh is back where she wants to be.
Haigh combined with Auckland RPC team-mate Emma Twigg to win the women's premier pairs final at the national rowing championships at Lake Karapiro yesterday, to crown her recent return after a year away following the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
A delighted Haigh afterwards expressed her joy at being back where she has spent many years and excitement at what lies ahead with the world champs at the same venue later this year.
"I've been quite focused on that race," Haigh said after she and Twigg saw off the challenge of defending champs Rebecca Scown and Fiona Paterson (Central RPC).
"I have something to prove, having taken a year off. So that was the result I was hoping for."
Haigh and crew-mate Nicky Coles finished fifth in Beijing and sixth at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Coles retired following Beijing and while Haigh went overseas, New Zealand Rowing established a new pairs combination of Scown and Emma Feathery.
That duo returned impressive results last year, including two World Cup wins and a bronze medal at last year's world championships in Poland.
So the pressure was on Haigh to perform yesterday in a new partnership with world-class single sculler Twigg.
"I was excited about it, but I had no idea of how we'd go," Haigh said.
"We're both bow-siders, but Emma made the adjustment very quickly.
"I felt really focused, took each stroke one by one and held my nerve. My mind was very much on my own boat."
Haigh said she was open-minded about what boat she may row in this year for New Zealand.
"I just really want to get back in the team – I won't turn any boat down.
"To be out here winning medals at the world champs at the end of the year is what it's about."
Haigh's name seems certain to be read out tomorrow when the Rowing New Zealand selectors name their trial squads and those selectors may have their own plans on how best to utilise her.
"We've done some seat racing, switching and changing combinations, during training this summer so they probably have some idea," Haigh said.
"I'm just looking forward to the day when the names are announced."
Haigh said her overseas sojourn was just what she needed at the time.
"I loved it. The reason I went away was to figure out whether I wanted to come back to this.
"I found out pretty quickly that I did."
Haigh did not shy away from the sport during her time away though.
"I lived at the London Rowing Club in Putney for six months," she said.
"I worked in the city at a recruitment agency, so I was rowing in the morning, then work, then rowing or an erg [indoor rowing machine] in the evening."
Haigh's return to New Zealand was partly spurred by this year's world champs from October 31 - November 7 and the Olympics in 2012.
"I'm looking to go to London in 2012 – I have so much experience from the last two Olympics that I want to use.
"So I came home really excited about training here and being in this environment.
"To see how well New Zealand Rowing was doing and what a massive challenge it would be just to get back in – I love having that challenge."
Twigg later teamed up with Emma Feathery for the Auckland RPC in the premier women's double sculls final but they were pipped to the gold by the Central RPC duo of Louise Trappitt and Anna Reymer.
In the men's doubles final, defending champs Matthew Trott and Nathan Cohen (Southern RPC) held off a stern challenge from Mahe Drysdale and Peter Taylor (Auckland RPC).
Both crews headed home the defending world champion combination from Germany of Eric Knittel and Stephan Krueger.
The German pair were forced to rally to keep the bronze medals from the hugely talented young Central RPC duo of Robbie Manson and Joseph Sullivan.
The narrowest margin of victory saw the Cambridge 2 combination of Georgia Perry and Ashleigh Hodge pip their Hawke's Bay 1 rivals Hayley Jenkins and Abbey Green by just .05 seconds in the women's club double sculls final.
There were plenty of good signs for the continued success of Hamilton Boys' High School at the upcoming North Island and Maadi Cup secondary school regattas, with a standout performance coming from the winning crew of Sam Thompson, Taylor Jacobs, Russell Schaare, Shay Austin and coxswain Mitchell Willetts in the men's club coxed fours final.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR TODAY
Men's premier single sculls final, 10am: It's staggering that the national final for the Sir Bernard Freyberg Cup will boast a field containing five world champions. Led by four-times world champ Mahe Drysdale, who is favoured to retain his title today, the six-strong line-up also features three-times world lightweight single sculls champ Duncan Grant, world lightweight double sculls champ Peter Taylor and world under-23 champion single sculler Joseph Sullivan. They're joined by the outstanding Nathan Cohen and 2002 world single sculls champ Marcel Hacker from Germany.
Women's premier quad, 1.30pm: A high-class field of four crews will contest the Milne Cup, with the Auckland RPC combination of Leah Stanley, Juliette Haigh, Emma Feathery and Emma Twigg likely to have a ferocious battle with the Central RPC crew of Louise Trappitt, Fiona Paterson, Rebecca Scown and Anna Reymer.
Men's premier quad, 2.30pm: West End club member Drysdale will be attempting to land the West End Trophy when he teams up in the Auckland RPC crew with Adam Tripp, Nathan Twaddle and Peter Taylor. They'll have their work cut out against the Southern RPC team of Storm Uru, Hamish Bond, Matthew Trott and Nathan Cohen.
Women's premier eights, 4.15pm: Auckland and Central, with their line-up of stars, should be fighting out the finish but Waikato and Southern also boast crews capable of making it a four-way tussle.
Men's premier eights, 4.30pm: The concluding final of the regatta may see defending champs Southern start as slight favourites but the home Waikato RPC crew containing the likes of Eric Murray, James Dallinger and Simon Watson will be determined to finish on a high.