New Zealand Team Announce 2019 Summer Squad of 49 Athletes

New Zealand selectors announce training squad and sets out plans for Tokyo 2020

5 minute read
Words & Photography Steve McArthur
Published 12.09.19

Yesterday Rowing New Zealand announced its 2019 Summer Squad of 49 athletes made up of 24 female rowers, 23 male rowers and 2 coxswains. This is a clear indication of the athletes that are in the frame to fill the seats at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Of course, the door is not shut on those not selected for the summer squad, but it is unlikely that any rowers that were not named will be in Tokyo. 

Key features of the announcement are New Zealand’s intention to send a men’s eight and men’s quad to the Final Olympic Qualification regatta next May but not to send a women’s four or lightweight men’s double. We also have the return from injury of Ashlee Rowe & Georgia Nugent-O’Leary. 

Photo NZL W8+
Credit Steve McArthur

New Zealand qualified nine crews (25 seats) for the Tokyo Olympics at the recent World Championships in Austria. New Zealand qualified its intended quota of six women’s crews (albeit the quad replaced the four which was expected to qualify). 

Rowing New Zealand stated at the team announcement: “We reviewed all of our World Championship performances and although not yet qualified for Tokyo, Rowing New Zealand will use the summer period to further progress the men’s eight and men’s quadruple scull for consideration to attend the Final Olympic Qualification at the March National Selection Trial. Rowing New Zealand is not considering any other boat for this regatta.” 

A few crews can be considered “untouchables” and it will be highly unlikely that the selectors will change these crews for the 2020 Olympics. These include:

Brooke Donoghue & Olivia Loe, since forming as a double, have won over 20 international races, including the 2017 and 2019 World Championships. Despite Hannah Osborne putting up a good fight with Loe for her seat, this combination is unlikely to be changed.  

In the same situation are the lightweight double of Zoe McBride & Jackie Kiddle. They dominated the 2019 season and have a history in the boat, winning the U23 world championship title in 2015 and finishing second at the 2017 senior world champs. 

Both these women’s doubles will lead the Olympic gold medal prospects for New Zealand.

Emma Twigg’s second place at the world championships has her in the perfect position for an assault on the Olympic title in Tokyo. Emma had an outstanding year beating all but the current back-to-back world champion Sanita Pušpure of Ireland. 

Michael Brake and Tom Murray fought hard for a second place in the men’s pair at the world championships in Austria, pushing the Croatians right to the final strokes. They have been a threatening combination since coming together in 2018. Rowing a punchier style than their counterparts in the eight, they are likely to fend off any challengers eyeing their seats. The selectors will want to keep them as a strong medal prospect for Tokyo. 

Now heres where it gets interesting. There isn’t a more fascinating job to have right now than to be a New Zealand rowing selector. There is enough talent to make several medal winning boats, but not so much depth in the talent pool that there isn’t a risk of running aground. 

Women’s sweep squad

13 athletes with 10 seats available for Tokyo (W8+ & W2-)

Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast picked up two world championship titles with the women’s pair and women’s eight at the 2019 world champs, they will not do the same in Tokyo. 

Photo Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast
Credit Steve McArthur

They had a few things in their favour in Austria, the main one being that their leading competitors had to race twice on the Friday before the finals weekend, leaving Grace and Kerri having two races less for the week. 

In Tokyo the overwhelming heat will play a major factor; doubling up didn’t work for the women’s eight in Rio (4th) and it won’t work in Tokyo, regardless of how good this pair is. The rowing eight is a special event for NZ and with a decent chance of claiming the gold in Tokyo, all efforts will be to place the best eight rowers in this boat. 

When the athletes double up, rowing both the pair and eight, every second training row is done in other boats. In the eight the reserves are rowing 50% of the time, in the key five and six seats this is somewhat disruptive and is challenging for the crew and coach to manage. They will target one gold medal.

There won’t be much of a change to the women’s eight, the now two-time world champion Caleb Shepherd will cox the women with at least six of the other seats remaining the same.  There has to be a healthy competitive environment created within the summer squad to keep this boat fast and with the decision to not chase the four it makes the contest for the 10 seats, very tough. 

Women’s 4x squad

 6 athletes with 4 seats available for Tokyo (W4X)

The women’s quad was a surprise entry for New Zealand in Austria and they came away with an impressive fifth place and, most importantly, the boat qualified for Tokyo. What is exciting is that New Zealand has the potential to make an even faster crew. Don’t expect the crew to remain the same. For sure Hannah Osborne and Samantha Voss look to be the mainstays who the crew will be built around. 

Eve MacFarlane, the 2015 world champion in the double scull will be eyeing her third Olympics. She was the youngest competitor of the entire New Zealand Olympic team when she raced the quad as a 19-year-old at the London 2012 games. 

There would be a strong argument to include Eve in the Women’s sweep squad to push for a seat in the eight or pair. However, she will make an enormous positive difference to the quad. Another that could add value to the sweep boat that will most likely also push for a seat in the quad is University of Washington’s Kirstyn Goodger. We have yet to see the best from her since coming back to New Zealand and 2020 could just be her year. 

2014 & 2015 World Champion lightweight rower Sophie Mackenzie had a season plagued with injury in 2019 and while she will no doubt provide injury backup for the lightweight double, rowing the quad as a “heavyweight” might just be the best spot for her. 

Men’s sweep squad

10 athletes with 8 seats to be selected for Tokyo (M8+)

New Zealand don’t do final Olympic qualification regattas well, especially in the men’s eight. In 2012 a decent crew (the spine of which raced for 5th place in the eight at the Karapiro 2010 World Champs) missed out by length and in 1996 an arguably stronger New Zealand eight with high-hopes also failed to qualify at the last chance, or as it is affectionately known; “the regatta of death”.  

The men’s eight has been given a lifeline, with just two men’s sweep seats qualified for Tokyo, the New Zealand selectors have made the correct decision to continue with this project. The idea of boating a four would have been tabled, however the B finals of the four’s races on the Linz-Ottensheim course favoured the outside lanes and saw the more fancied crews from France, Serbia & Germany failing to qualify for Tokyo. These crews will make the fours race for two places in Lucerne in May very, very challenging. 

Photo NZL M8+ at Henley in 2019
Credit Steve McArthur

Despite the best chance of a sweep medal in Tokyo (outside of the pair) being the four for New Zealand, it will be harder than the eight to qualify. The eight showed a glimmer of promise in 2019. Their win over Great Britain in the Grand at Henley being the highlight as well as a podium at World Cup III, ahead of the fast finishing Dutch crew (2nd at the World Champs 2019) on their home water. 

The New Zealand eight of 2019 was too slow out of the blocks. They were sixth to the first 500m marker in the A final at the world champs in Austria and despite an impressive latter stage of the race, failed to make up a place and finished last. They were slow to the first 500m in their other FISA races in Poznan and Rotterdam and will need more horsepower to get their black beauty flying. 

Cameron Webster, one of the strongest men to row for New Zealand, has been brought back into the squad with that in mind. The make-up of the eight will depend somewhat on what Hamish Bond (or the selectors) decide to do or to a lesser extent what squad Mahé Drysdale will end up in. 

Racing a German built Empacher boat (like all those that have qualified so far in the eight) would also do their chances no harm. However, unless someone starts a give-a-little page (crowd funding) that’s unlikely to happen. Also having fair competition for seats would also be welcomed, former rowers would be surprised to hear the 2019 eight was anointed rather than selected via an open trials process. There was just one seat race for the eight at the New Zealand trials, in the opposite selection process to that which was made famous by the 1984 film “Pieces of Eight”. 

Men’s sculling squad

11 athletes with 7 seats to be selected for Tokyo (1X, 2X & 4X)

Earlier this year at the New Zealand National Championships the New Zealand men’s sculling program had never been stronger. The current Olympic champion Mahé Drysdale was challenging Robbie Manson the world record holder for his seat. The race of the regatta saw two quads separated by just 5/100ths of a second, in the race to decide the national champion.  

Photo NZL National Championship M4x final
Credit Steve McArthur

Adding spice into the mix were 2017 world champion double scullers Chris Harris and John Storey. The New Zealand selectors must have been rubbing their hands together. 

Fast forward six months and not one New Zealand men’s sculling crew would make the A final at the World Championships, for the first time probably since the dark ages of New Zealand elite rowing in the 1990’s. The saving grace being the determined performances by Manson, Storey and Harris to qualify their boats for Tokyo, by way of the B final. 

What happens will depend largely on where the athletes see themselves or more importantly where the selectors see the athletes being. Expect to see Hamish Bond pushing for the single scull – there is no other in the current squad that will beat Robbie Manson this summer in the single. 

Photo Hamish Bond
Credit Steve McArthur

With less variables, and his single-minded determination, the single scull seems a natural fit for Bond, but will he have enough time to re-master the craft and challenge Zeidler, Borch, Synek, Martin et al. in under 10 months’ time?   

Manson himself probably sees his best chance in Tokyo in the double, while Drysdale (despite all the rhetoric) will be eyeing a seat in the quad to challenge his good friend and great foe Olaf Tufte. Drysdale has more value to add to the quad as he proved in 2018 than he could offer to the eight. However, seeing Bond, Drysdale & Manson going hammer and tongs in the single for the summer would certainly keep rowing in the headlines. 

One cannot count out lightweight sculler Matt Dunham from making a heavyweight sculling boat in 2020. He is an out and out winner, having proved his worth in 2016 when filling in for the injured Peter Taylor to win some sweep World Cups in the lightweight four. Then wining the Diamond Sculls at Henley in 2017, a rare feat for a lightweight. With the lightweight double being disbanded, his Tokyo hopes ride solely on a heavyweight seat. 

The initial team for 2020 is expected to be 11 crews with 38 seats, plus reserves. The rowers will assemble for training on Monday 30th September 2019 with their own individual training commencing on or before Monday 23 September 2019. Look forward to a flotilla of singles hitting the Lake Karapiro waters later this month. 

All in all, with the superb strength and depth of women’s rowing, and the fierce competition for seats within the men’s sculling squad, New Zealand has the talent and framework in place to return from Tokyo with its biggest Olympic medal haul yet.