Lake Ruataniwha, near the hydro town of Twizel, at the foot of the Southern Alps, was at its best for the 2019 New Zealand Masters Rowing Championships. It is not such a good sign for rowing when the Norwegian Alpine Ski team is in town, using the mountains that feed the lake its pristine water, to train during their summer. Despite a chilly start each day, the lake was flat and provided for excellent, fair racing.
Three hundred hardy master’s rowers representing thirty-six clubs were lured to New Zealand’s rowing mecca and were richly rewarded. The purpose-built rowing lake was at its absolute best for two days of racing.
The competitors are a mix of former elite’s, club rowers who never kicked the habit and more inspiring are the many who have taken up rowing following their children into the sport. Dunstan’s Simon Smith said that “masters rowing is getting better and better” and that there is a wide range of athletes competing from those that want to do it for a bit of fun to those that are seriously training for it. Simon went on to say that some of the masters crews match that of the younger senior club crews.
Rowing parents now rowing included, Grant Kiddle, who picked up a couple of Gold medals to go with his daughter Jackie’s gold that she won a few weeks ago in Austria at the elite World champs. Chris Brake also picked up a gold, to go one better than his son Michael did in Austria, when he came a close second to the Sinković Brothers.
Also competing were many celebrities of New Zealand rowing, including the effervescent Ron Satherley, former Black Fern and trans-Atlantic rower Jude Ellis who seemed to enjoy the shorter distance. While World Championship medalist from the late 70’s Des Lock was joined in the red and yellow hooped zootie by former double world champion Philippa Baker-Hogan, both collecting three gold medals each. Astonishing the field with her sculling prowess was Twizel based FISA umpire Vanessa McIver, who responded to a plea for help to lead the local ladies quad.
However; it was the two women, that provided the initial spark for what is now the strongest women’s sweep program in the World, who stole the show. At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Nikki Payne and Lynley Hannen (as they were then known) collected a surprise Olympic bronze medal in the coxless pair. They became the first New Zealand women to win an Olympic rowing medal and became household names.
More than thirty years later, they were rowing the pair again, this time as Nicola Mills and Lynley Coventry. They amassed an array of gold medals during the weekend across sweep and sculling boats in Twizel, including the gold medal in the Women’s D pair (50-54 years) ahead of the current national title holders, the lively Blenheim pair, of Sarah Lissaman and Cynthia de Joux.
Others from that era were also in fine form. Waikato double Olympians Campbell Clayton-Green, Bill Coventry and Alastair Mackintosh were joined by their fellow dual Olympian Dave Schaper to claim titles in both the C & D straight four. However, their collective fifty plus redcoats amassed during the late 1980s and 1990s (awarded for each Premier National Title) that they brought to the D eight (50-54 years) were not enough to hold off the fast finishing masters from the back-waters of NZ rowing, who had between them a grand total of zero red coats.
The Dunstan / Wakatipu combination of Simon Smith, Greg McLaughlin, Chris Brooks, Andrew Jolly, Nicholas Bailey, Gary Jack, Lee Wilson, Quentin Annan and coxswain Sophie Smith stormed home in the last two hundred meters to finish in a time of 3:13.19, just a bow-ball ahead of the Nelson / Waikato crew of Dave Schaper, Bill Coventry, Alastair Mackintosh, Campbell Clayton-Greene, Steven Odinot, Grant Wilson, Colin Brown, Tony Crosbie and coxswain Fred Murray who finished second in 3:13.23.
In another feature eights race, a Marlborough combination lost by a seat to a much younger Avon crew in the mixed masters A-C coxed eight. The eclectic crew (who collected the handicap win) was made up of Picton brothers Hayden, Kieran & Ryan Gaudin, their old aunty Trish Kamizona, Blenheim stalwarts Sarah Lissaman, Cynthia de Joux, and fellow Picton rowers James Ashley, Melissa Cragg & the young Dunstan coxswain Sophie Smith.
The race was a highlight of the regatta for Ryan Gaudin, he said “it was a bloody good weekend” for the three brothers to be rowing together with close friends and their aunty Trish from the north “to lose by just a seat to the Avon crew, to nearly physically beat them” was an impressive effort.
There was an international flavour at the regatta with former New Zealand coach Craig Smith (who is now plying his trade in Australia) leading a Melbourne Rowing Club squad who collected medals in all of the nine events they contested, including 3 golds for Craig. Irish rower Jimmy Healy from the Commercial Rowing Club in Dublin, also picked up a handful of medals including two golds.
Simon Smith who along with his close friend Greg McLaughlin won 10 national titles to make Simon’s gold medal stock pile and impressive 32 national masters titles in the last three seasons, said at the masters it is “always a good battle between mates” and while the rivalries on the water are fierce the comradeship off the water is what brings everyone back.
Adding that “Ruathaniwha does it better than anyone else” Simon is already plotting his assault on the 2020 masters.