Selection headaches loom at trials
Rowing New Zealand's selection panel has a pile of in-form athletes to choose from when national trials start on Sunday.
Most of the country's elite rowers displayed sharp form at the national champs, which ended on Saturday at Lake Karapiro, with Hamish Bond's victory in the men's premier single scull final highlighting the quality and depth of talent within the organisation.
Yesterday, Rowing NZ named 88 elite and under-23 rowers to contest trials at Lake Karapiro from March 2 to 6, after which squads chosen by the trio of Richard Tonks, Barrie Mabbott and Conrad Robertson will be named to contest the three World Cup regattas in Australia, France and Switzerland and the world championships in the Netherlands.
In the five-day-long national championships, the men's premier pair winners Bond and James Lassche and men's premier lightweight single scull victor Peter Taylor came close to setting world-best times, while Bond won a ferocious battle over Mahe Drysdale and Eric Murray to capture his first national singles crown.
"Where else in the world would you get that?" Taylor said of the heavyweight final, which Bond won by three-quarters of a length from the defending Olympic champion in 6min 41.34sec- only eight seconds outside the world's quickest time set by Drysdale in 2009.
"This is our national champs, and that was pretty near a world championship final," Taylor added.
Given that the Rowing NZ summer squad members have come off a block of heavy training just recently, their form augurs well for the coming international campaign.
Taylor admitted the top rowers were in great shape.
"We've been kept fresh and excited and mentally we're ready to go," he said.
"We're not stale at this time of the season and these guys are just going to get hungrier, feistier, more aggressive.
"I'm not looking forward to some training days because you're going to be up against this," he said, pointing at the first three in the men's single scull final.
Taylor is one of the veterans of the Rowing NZ setup, which prides itself on its athletes pushing each other onto greater heights, and he said standards continue to lift.
"It is getting tougher; you have to be more and more on your game each day.
"We're all pushing each other up, as you've seen this season. Bondy's raised the bar in that singles field and Mahe's had to rise to the challenge.
"If somebody raises the bar, you've got to rise up to it or else you'll stand up like a sore thumb, and it's not pretty."
Last year's world championships silver medallist Emma Twigg (Auckland RPC) won her sixth consecutive women's premier singles title, heading home the Waikato RPC duo of Zoe Stevenson, silver, and Genevieve Armstrong, bronze, in 7min 38.31sec.
Southern RPC maintained its stranglehold on the women's premier eight title by scoring a fourth consecutive crown on Saturday. Stroked by outstanding lightweight Lucy Strack, the crew that also featured Kristen Froude, Genevieve Behrent, Lucy Spoors, Fiona Bourke, Johannah Kearney, Olivia Loe, Grace Prendergast and cox Lydia Milner held out Central RPC by almost four seconds, with Waikato RPC third.
The host crew howver gained revenge in the men's eight by taking the title off holders Southern, who were third behind Central. The Waikato combination of Murray, Alex Bardoul, Evan Kennedy, Tyson Williams, Patrick McInnes, Alex Kennedy, Shaun Kirkham, David Eade and cox Caleb Shepherd timed their run to perfection to move past Central and win in a time of 6min 6.45sec.
That victory doubled with Waikato RPC's triumph in the men's premier coxed final earlier in Saturday morning, as Williams, McKenzie Macky, Anthony Allen, Matthew Glenn and Shepherd ensured the Boss Rooster trophy wouldn't require a change of paint job as they defendedthe title by holding off a Picton crew featuring Olympic champion Joseph Sullivan.
The wins helped Waikato make a large trophy haul - Waikato RPC took the Bankstream Trophy as the top-performing Regional Performance Centre while the Centennial Oar for the top club went to the Waikato Rowing Club, The Hallyburton Johnstone Rose Bowl for top association in the eight boat events was won by Waikato Rowing Association, and Waikato also gained the most points in the sculling events to capture the Centennial Scull.
Not surprisingly, Bond was judged the top male rower of the year, to win the Clarrie Healey Cup, with Central's Rebecca Scown named female rower of the year to collect the Champions Cup.