Former World Champion Emma Dyke, 26, from Mayfield, Mid-Canterbury, New Zealand, calls time on her rowing career. The two-time Olympian last competed for New Zealand at Tokyo 2020 Olympics and won a silver medal in the women’s eights. “I have lived and breathed rowing for almost 10 years, however I know it is the right time for me to start something new,” says Dyke.
Dyke is currently living in London, UK, and “loving it”. Two weeks after arriving in the capital she knew, “there was no way I was going back – London is such a fun city and there’s so much going on.” She held off making any “official decisions” about her rowing career as she did not want to “rush it”. However, her next job is also a boat-y one. She is set to start a new role as a shipping broker. It will be a “complete change” says Dyke, and admits being “a little daunted” but is “very excited to start my first ‘9-5’ job”.
“I knew retiring was going to be a tough decision to make and I didn’t want to make it too early. Physically I could have kept going through to Paris 2024 but I know the crazy amount of hard work and dedication that is required, day-in-day-out, and after being here in London… I am ready to enjoy life on the other side.”
Dyke is enjoying “being over this side of the world” and wants “to make the most of being so close to Europe”. Highlights of the non-rowing-life include, “dinner and drinks on a weeknight without having to worry about an intense training session the next morning” and “full weekends to myself instead of training half of Saturday”. If she had not travelled abroad Dyke believes she would have returned to rowing by now. But is there anything she misses? “100% the girls and the wider team! Also international racing because that’s what we, as rowers, live for.”
Dyke’s affinity for rowing was slow burning. “Truthfully I had no desire to row. I came from a small rural country town and two other girls, from the same town, started rowing and loved it. They begged me to come down and give it a try. Initially I wanted to quit but I was too scared so kept going, and ended up really enjoying it.” Inauspicious beginnings underpinned a glittering career that culminated with a silver medal at Tokyo 2020.
In the aftermath of Tokyo Dyke spent time at the “family home” in the South Island, “I couldn’t do a lot as New Zealand was in a strict lockdown”. Dyke grew up on a dairy farm on the South Island and, at 15-years-old, learnt to row at Craighead Diocesan and Timaru Rowing Club. Three years on Dyke made her international debut at the 2013 World Rowing Junior Champions in Trakai, Lithuania, placing fifth in the coxless fours. It was the first of eight successive championship performances.
Dyke’s first season as a senior rower coincided with the making of New Zealand rowing history. Her eight won a silver medal at the 2015 World Rowing Championships, in Aiguebelette, France, and became the first-ever New Zealand’s women’s eight to qualify for the Olympic Games. “I didn’t even realise I had a shot [at the Olympics] or even spared a thought about it until we got that silver medal. That year I had actually trialled for the U23 team!” At Rio 2016 Dyke, and her teammates in the eight, finished fourth; the most frustrating of all places. Nevertheless she committed to a second Olympiad, intent on securing an Olympic medal.
Winning performances at Henley Royal Regatta and at the 2017 World Cup Series reinforced Dyke’s world class calibre. At the 2017 World Rowing Championships in Sarasota, Florida, Dyke and her crew beat the home-side US eight out of the medals, and secured a bronze medal. A 2018-season slump in performance from the Kiwis preceded another history-making season the next year.
A new lineup – with Grace Prendergast and Kerri Williams (neé Gowler) – saw Dyke race from the two seat of the 2019 New Zealand women’s eight, they won Henley Royal Regatta and World Cup III before claiming a gold medal at the 2019 World Rowing Championships in Linz, Austria. It was the first time a New Zealand women’s eight had won gold at a world championships, and the result secured New Zealand Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualification.
“Fourth at Rio was definitely a tough pill to swallow and it gave us the motivation to push on and train harder. However, it was our 2018 result, our first time racing in a B-final, that really got us thinking about what we needed to do to get back to the top. And then in 2019 the pair doubled up with us and we went onto win gold and that gave us a taste of what it’s like to be on top. Ultimately, that was the driving factor for our motivation into Tokyo.”
Dyke was ready for her second shot at Olympic glory when the global pandemic put things on ice. Dyke was “devastated”. Dyke returned home to her parents and helped on the farm. “I enjoyed being back in the country where I grew up. Spending so much time with my mum and dad was strange as I had been to boarding school and then moved up north for rowing, so I wasn’t used to it. Being free and able to train whenever I wanted made me truly enjoy training again; I was so happy, which was nice.”
Tokyo 2020 was Dyke’s sixth successive season in the women’s eight. Despite it being their first international competition for almost two years, the New Zealanders continued their success by winning an Olympic silver medal – only bested by a flawless performance from Canada. Dyke’s former school coach Dean Milne says, “[Dyke] is an amazing success story”. “She was a very hard worker and I use her as an example even today when I talk to the junior rowers. She worked hard towards it and got it [an Olympic medal].” He told Rowing New Zealand, it was “an amazing effort from Emma and the team” who finished 0.91 seconds behind Canada who won gold in the women’s eights at Tokyo.
Dyke is forever grateful for all the support she has received throughout her rowing journey and thanks, “everyone who has made the last 9 years such great ones”. As she says on her understated Instagram post, “This chapter has come to an official end.”