Five time World Champion Grace Prendergast, 30, has called time on her international rowing career. The two-time Olympian last competed for New Zealand at the 2022 World Rowing Championships in the women’s pair with long-standing partner Kerri Williams (née Gowler), and won gold. Prendergast holds 15 New Zealand National Premier titles, the World Best Time in the women’s pair and four, and two Olympic medals (gold and silver). “Rowing has shaped me into the person I am today and I could never have imagined the impact that it would have on my life. It has been a difficult decision to make, but I know that the time is right for me to step away from high performance rowing,” said Prendergast.
“I achieved more than I ever thought I was capable of and although I’ll miss everything that rowing has given me, I feel I have fulfilled my dreams and am proud of the career I have had. I’m fortunate to have so many amazing memories to look back on and celebrate,” said Prendergast via Instagram and thanked her family, friends, teammates, and coaches, in particular Gary Hay. “I am grateful to so many people but first and foremost Kerri. In the nine years we spent rowing together I’m proud of the combination we formed, the effort we put into achieving our goals, and how we managed every high and low together. Also, everyone involved in the women’s eight programme – it was a special group to be a part of for so many years.”
Prendergast started her rowing career in Christchurch, New Zealand, rowing for Villa Maria College and Avon Rowing Club. She first represented New Zealand at the 2010 World Rowing Junior Championships in the coxless four, winning gold with teammates Eve Macfarlane, Jenny Storey and Bea Heaphy-Hall. Two years later Prendergast was part of the Under 23 women’s four that finished fourth in Trakai, Lithuania. She made her senior debut in the women’s eight at the 2013 World Rowing Cup I in Sydney, Australia, and competed at the 2013 World Rowing Championships, in Chungju, South Korea.
The Lake of the Gods was the scene for Williams and Prendergast to make their debut appearance in the women’s pair at the 2014 World Rowing Cup III in Lucerne, Switzerland. The duo finished in second place, just 2 seconds behind the dominant British crew of Heather Stanning and Helen Glover. Prendergast and Kerri were crowned 2014 Under 23 Rowing World Champions, later that season and at the senior World Rowing Championships won gold in the women’s four and set a World Best Time that remains unbeaten.
In 2015 Prendergast cemented herself as an integral part of the New Zealand women’s sweep squad, rowing in both the women’s pair and the women’s eight at the World Rowing Championships, walking away with two silver medals and gaining Olympic qualification in both events. The following year saw Prendergast become part of New Zealand sporting history when she was selected into the first ever women’s eight to compete at an Olympic Games. The crew finished 4th in an extremely tight field at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
From 2017 through to today, Prendergast has been one of the most dominant sweep rowers on the international scene. With teammate Kerri Williams, the pair have been an almost unbeatable combination in the women’s pair field that culminated in an Olympic gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, all while being a vital part of the women’s eight which also won a silver medal at the Tokyo Games.
“I am so proud of everything Grace and I have achieved together,” said Kerri Williams via RowingNZ, “I feel so fortunate to have been on this incredible journey with her where we achieved more than I could have ever imagined. I have huge respect and admiration for Grace as a friend and an athlete. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for such a strong, driven, kind and caring woman”.
Prendergast has not only excelled on the water but also completed a Bachelor of Business Studies and Master of Business Studies through Massey University, and following the Tokyo Olympics she completed a Masters of Philosophy in Planning, Growth and Regeneration at Cambridge University, while also winning the prestigious Cambridge vs Oxford Boat Race. In doing so, Prendergast became one of only a handful of people to win the Boat Race, an Olympic Gold and World Championship Gold.
In 2022 Prendergast and Kerri combined for what would be their final international season in the women’s pair where, true to form, the duo won gold at the 2022 World Rowing Championships in Racice, Czech Republic, in September. Mike Rodger coached the crew for their final season and has described Prendergast as “talented, an amazing person, and an all-round leader. I feel so privileged to have been a small part of Grace’s rowing career and I look forward to seeing her next chapter”.
Triple Olympic Champion, Hamish Bond, also expressed his admiration for Prendergast: “Through her time in the pair and the women’s eight, Grace became a standard bearer for other athletes and crews within Rowing New Zealand. She led with her actions and consistency, and it was gratifying to pass the moniker of ‘Kiwi Pair’ to her and Kerri with their success at the Tokyo Olympics”
In June 2022, Prendergast, along with NZ Rowing team members Kerri Williams and Emma Twigg, was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to sport.