How New Zealand Rowing found its happy place.

 

It’s the morning of the big show...

It’s still pitch black as the crews for World Cup III head upstream at Lake Karāpiro with a barge load of media and sponsors watching on.

It’s a foul day and the visibility is not too good.

A couple of sponsors brace against the horizontal rain for two hours as their chase boat follows the women’s crews 13km up to the Horahora Bridge and beyond.

Before they head for home Lucy Spoors explains what they are doing in the session and what they are trying to achieve.  They are insights that give the guests the chance to be insiders for a morning. It’s gold from the gold medallist.

Everyone is stoked to get back on dry land (a coffee cart and BLTs fresh off the barbecue help) but they are stoked to have been out there for the duration as well.

Chief Executive David Meates calls everyone in. He’s moved to words that express excitement, the idea that something special is happening in the building and on the water.

Former All Black Josh Kronfeld is reporting for The Crowd Goes Wild. At the end he changes into his budgies, picks up a surfboard and takes a dip in the freezing lake. He isn’t scene-stealing. He has sensed a vibe.

In just a few days 32 squad members are off to race at Lucerne for World Rowing Cup III.

So, what’s the vibe and how did it get here.

 

BRIGHT LIGHTS

Stella Clayton-Greene brings energy to everything she does. And that includes interviews. She might just have the toughest inheritance you could get at Rowing NZ after being selected in the Women’s Pair with Cat Layburn.

Stella knows it’s a massive honour to get the chance to be in the boat that Olympic and world champions Kerri Williams and Grace Prendergast raced in.

“I was fortunate enough to be in the building when they were here last year, I definitely looked up to them and kind of tried to emulate their processes.  They were just pure class. And so it feels like a massive privilege to be in that boat.”

How she got there is slightly complicated, partly coincidental and more than a bit comical.

It goes like this:

Stella Clayton-Greene the sculler decides at Summer Squad she wouldn’t mind a go in a pair.

There’s a shortage of bowsiders and while she hasn’t really rowed there much, when asked, she gives it the, ‘Sure I can row bow side’. So out she goes and fortunately for her gets a heap of time rowing behind Jackie Gowler. Jackie kind of saves the day with some helpful advice and Stella pulls off the convincing impersonation of a seasoned bowsider at trials and makes the sweep squad. Turns out what’s really needed is another strokesider. Stella brings the energy remember and so reviving her exploits in the Hauraki Plains College U16 four puts on another convincing display to end up STROKING.THE.PAIR left vacant by K. Williams and G. Prendergast.

Recalling the school rowing effort:

Stella: “I think we maybe got third in the B final or something. So humble beginnings.

AH: “That's positive.”

Stella: “Yes. I'll be trying to beat that when I'm overseas at a world championships.”

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PHOTO: PICTURE SHOW LTD. STELLA CLAYTON-GREENE STROKING THE PAIR WITH REVSERVE KATIE LUSH 

SHARK TANK EVENT

That’s how Robbie Manson describes the current state of the ridiculously strong field in the Men’s Double Scull.

France are world and Olympic champions.

Spain, Italy, the Netherlands. Definitely no slouches. Oh, and the Sinkovic brothers have returned to the double after winning the Men’s Pair at Tokyo.

The thing is, in one way or another, Robbie Manson’s been in a shark tank for most of his rowing career.

But this return to the big time after stepping away for 4 years comes without any fear of a shadow passing underneath.

"...thanks to the incredible group of people around me – including coach Gary Roberts, and my amazing teammates Ben, Jack and Jordan – this return has been an absolute joy. We train hard, share plenty of laughs, and support each other every step of the way. I am incredibly grateful for their presence and support. 🙌❤️

"I would also like to extend my gratitude to all the people who have supported me over the past year, especially my masters rowers and the fantastic squad and coaches at Waikato Rowing Club. Your encouragement and belief in me have been instrumental in getting me to where I am today. Thank you." 🙏Robbie

His 21-year-old doubles partner Ben Mason was also posting. He talked about Robbie being his idol as a young rower, wanting to go as fast as Manson, the impact of some advice he got from Manson in his final couple of years at Otago Boys High School.

"He’s given me crew talks and presented me medals. I was so honoured that we have gotten to become such good friends and now to be racing internationally in a double with him is an extraordinary opportunity and something I never would have predicted!"

"I’m so excited to try step up for the challenge, for some great racing, great laughs, and great memories!"

Ben Mason knows it’s a shark tank out there in the double too.

But he’s not rowing with fear either.

On the surface these words don’t demonstrate that: “Well, you can imagine if this doesn’t go very well who people are naturally going to blame, and it won’t be the fastest man to ever row a single.”

And then Ben Mason has a laugh.  No fear.

Of course it helps to know you are swimming almost as fast as all the other sharks gathering for World Cup III.

Robbie Manson (L) and Ben Mason (R) Men_s Double Scull [1]

Photo: Picture Show Ltd. Robbie Manson and Ben Mason MENS doubles CREW.

SINGLE, TRIPLE, DOUBLE

We’ve probably all known someone who’s walked away with what they thought was a sprain only to look at the X-rays and see the jagged line of black between two parts of white bone.

That was Jordan Parry on January 28 this year. Out solo on a dirt bike, two weeks before nationals and three black lines between what should have been a complete ankle bone.

He has been responsible for some new guidelines at Rowing NZ though. No dirt bike riding.

It’s been a painful and frustrating break to a career that was starting to gain traction after he finished 4th in the Men’s Single Scull at last year’s world champs.

Rehab has been all-consuming, you can tell from the long pause between “Wow”...and...”It’s been a journey” just how tough it’s been.

But just to be in the other Men’s Double with Jack Ready is a win for Jordan.

He's 22, I'm 27. So he's got the old fossil in the boat, but we get along really well. It's just cool to see such a refreshing, fresh face come into the system.”

So what about trying to reclaim that spot in the single?

“I think it's in my back pocket and it's gonna be a hell of a summer. We’ve got a lot of talent with Tom Mackintosh. I'm gonna give him any advice I can for the single because we need that boat qualified [for Paris] and he's just a good guy.  Like why wouldn’t I try to help him out. [But] yeah, I’m not leaving it off the table at all.”

Jordan Parry (L) and Jack Ready (R) Men_s Double Scull [1]

PHOTO: PICTURE SHOW LTD. JORDAN PARRY AND JACK READY DOUBLES CREWMATES.

TMACK IS BACK

Tom Mackintosh also remembers a day in February this year during a four-month sabbatical from rowing where he was seriously considering walking away from the sport altogether.

“I was interning for an investments company up in Auckland and I had an epiphany. I realised I'm not built for a desk and my body was rejecting the computer and the office chair.”

The opportunity to rejoin Olympic Eight crewmate Shaun Kirkham in Japan followed and at in May he helped the Toyoto-Boshoku crew win its first ever All-Japan Championship title in the big boat.

“I sort of fell out of love with the sport a bit. Going to Japan sort of re-instilled that passion. We had guys there that just love rowing for the sake of rowing and they just fizzed it. It was really nice actually watching that and feeding off their energy and, and actually realising what a cool opportunity it is to be here.

That opportunity only confirmed what he’d already figured out that day in February.

“I realised I'd invested a lot of time into the sport, so why not come back and give it one last set up for Paris. And I needed a challenge, a really big hurdle to motivate me to get through the daily grind of the sport. And so for me, that was the single scull.”

So TMack is back.

He’s attack, attack and attack again. Tom Mackintosh can row and race a single. He knows how big the hurdle is not only in terms of what competing against the world’s best means, but what’s expected when you put on a black singlet to row in this particular boat.

In three weeks he’ll be up against world champion Oli Zeidler.

“It'll be a good yard stick racing him. I'll be able to identify where my weaknesses are and the points I need to work on, and then go from there. I'm not setting out on this venture to be the best sculler in the first race.”

He’s saving that for Paris.

Thomas Mackintosh - Men’s Single Scull [1]

Tom Mackintosh ready to race in the Men's Single Scull at World Cup III

ANOTHER LIGHT BULB MOMENT

So we know TMack had a light bulb moment. But did Rowing NZ selectors have one too when they picked Lucy Spoors and Brooke Francis for the Women’s Double Scull?

It might have seemed like a stroke of genius to use the fact that they are both new mums as the overriding reason for putting them in the same boat.

Well it helped, but the main reason is they are just a great combination.

"They both have a really strong sculling backgrounds," says their coach James Coote. "And they both have an innate feeling for the boat and the water. They also have massive leg drives, with a really strong front-end."

The last time they were in the same international crew was in the Women’s Quad in 2016. James was their coach back then as well.

“I think it was probably one of our hardest times that we both experienced," says Brooke. "We were qualifying for the Rio Olympics and just missed out on that qualification. So we bring it up every now and then. There's definitely a sore spot still.”

Put Brooke Francis in a double and you know you’re probably on to a good thing. A two-time world champion and Olympic silver medallist.

“Yeah, the double's definitely my favorite boat. I've tried every other boat [but] there’s just something about sculling the oars through the water and having someone to do it with, you sort of feed off each other's energy and pick up the boat together. Even right back to the Evers-Swindell twins before I even rowed, I admired them and I can't believe that I get to row the double.”

There will be some childcare juggling to make this work. Brooke’s taking baby Keira with her to World Cup III. Lucy will leave little Rupert at home.

“New Zealand Rowing’s been amazing and made sure that we've had the support we need as well as even adjusting the tour for us,” says Brooke. “It didn't logistically work out for us to stay overseas [between World Cup III and World Champs] so they've managed to get us home on a flight and then back over which for me, I think if I'm happy I'm gonna row better.”

Rupert Robertson, Lucy Spoors, Brooke Francis, Keira Francis (2)

Photo: Picture Show Ltd. Rupert Robertson, Lucy Spoors, Brooke Francis, Keira Francis 

ELLA AND OLLIE

These are landmark moments for Ella Cossill and Ollie Maclean. Both graduating from their American University programmes and making their first World Cup crews with every hope of going on to their first senior World Championships and Paris next year.

Ella had a great final season with University of Washington, stroking their First Varsity Eight (1V) to 2nd at the NCAA championships in May.

If Ollie was American he’d be a superstar in the States. A back-to-back winner with Cal Berkeley’s 1V at the recent Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships, the Pac-12 rower of the year two seasons running.

Both are fizzing over the boats they’ve made.

Ollie: "I think it's still hitting me that I've made the Coxless Four. To be selected amongst Tom Murray and Matt MacDonald, gold medallists in the eight and Logan [Ullrich, University of Washington] was my biggest competitor [in the States]. Pretty exciting to see what we can do on the world stage.”

Ella attributes part of Washington’s success to the things she learned from training with her new Coxless Four crewmates over the summer at Karāpiro.

So Phoebe [Spoors], Jackie [Gowler] and Davina [Waddy] I kind of took their mentalities and I was like, ‘Okay, I can apply that in this eight in the stroke seat’. We were like eight seconds behind Stanford I think and so quite a way from the leaders, 11 seconds from Texas. Each race we just chipped away, chipped away, chipped away. Every race we got closer. So I was really pleased to be within two seconds in that final. It was an epic way to finish.”

Back here at trials Ella had some extra support from the parents who live right above the third 500m at Karāpiro .

They got to watch all the seat racing we did and all the 2Ks we've done in the last week or so. My dad whistles out. I asked him to whistle at 650 meters to go. So every time I hear a whistle, I give an extra push for my family up there cos I know they're watching.”

The support on the near side of the lake has been a huge boost for Ollie.

“I mean, it's been a long time coming for me just to be in the New Zealand team as I chose that path to go to the United States. In the past you wouldn't get that selection and the relationship that myself and Rowing New Zealand have established over the years, it's kind of hit its moment now.”

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PHOTO: PICTURE SHOW LTD. ELLA COSSILL WHO IS IN THE WOMEN'S FOUR CREW BEING INTERVIEWED ON MEDIA DAY. 

HPSNZ Rowing June 2023

OLLIE MACLEAN who is part of the MEN'S FOUR

THE STORY OF LAURA GLEN

It’s fitting Laura Glen completes all this good news human reportage. She’s made her first ever crew for a World Cup after being selected to row the Women’s Double with Kate Haines. They’ll train and compete alongside Lucy Spoors and Brooke Francis and it’s planned they’ll go to the World Championships as reserves.

Laura did three worlds with the Under-23s up until 2019 before taking some time away.

“In 2020 with Covid and the world slowing down, I decided to take a break from rowing, finish my degree and get a job. And so I've been working at Deloitte now since 2021.”

But she’d never entirely given up on her rowing ambitions and she wondered whether she could combine her working and sporting ambitions.

So far, so good.

“I think it's still quite a new thing that we are trying to navigate - athletes having a little bit more outside than just their sport. But yeah, Rowing New Zealand have been so supportive and it's always just been an ongoing conversation with how the balance is going and making both fit well.”

The break has done her good, she feels physiologically more capable than she ever did and her and Jackie intend to be pushing Lucy and Brooke every time they hit the water.

At the end of last year, Deloitte promoted Laura. She’s now a Senior Human Resources advisor.

Over the summer she was part of the Elite Development squad that led to her big rowing promotion this week.

Good HR all round.

Laura Glen (L) and Kate Haines (R) Women’s Double Scull [1]

PHOTO: PICTURE SHOW LTD. WOMEN'S DOUBLE CREW LAURA GLEN AND KATIE HAINES.

The building’s just about emptied out as it falls way past dark at the other end of the day.

The coach of the Men’s U19 Eight, Dale Maher, is still there though. He’s started an ad-hoc book-club discussion with U19 Manager Maxine Hughes and Community Manager Mark Weatherall about the 300-pager he’s reading: Think Like A Monk.

If you know Dale Maher, you’ll know there’s definitely a vibe building at Rowing NZ.

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Andy Hay

Andy Hay is a freelance producer, writer and rowing coach. He was cox of the world champion New Zealand eight of 1982 and '83. He is NZ Olympian #446.

For any RowingHub content ideas hit up Andy at andygohay1@gmail.com