New Zealand has qualified its first two boats for the Paris Olympics on day five of the World Rowing Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.

 

It was the first day of semifinals where a top-three finish guaranteed not only a berth in the A Final at this regatta but precious entry on to the Vaires-sur-Maine course for next year’s Games.

Jackie Kiddle and Shannon Cox were first to make the cut after finishing second in their semifinal of the Lightweight Women’s Double Sculls. The New Zealanders were fifth going through the first 500m, but only 1.12sec down on leaders France.

Kiddle and Cox are a new combination this year and seemed to grow in assurance as the race went on, leading through the 1250m before Canada slipped through by just 0.64s at the finish.

The moments after the race were poignant for both athletes in different ways.

Cox is in just her first year as an international athlete. The semifinal was only her fifth race at this level.

For Kiddle, it was some compensation for past disappointment, says coach James Coote.

Obviously, there's a lot of people out there that know the stories around Covid and Jackie had qualified a boat in 2019 but then couldn't compete in Tokyo.”

“It's always been a big goal for the crew and in the back of our minds,” says Coote. “Almost something you don't quite talk about until it's done.”

Seven Olympic spots are available from this regatta for the Lightweight Women’s Double Sculls event so all A-Finalists qualify as well as the winner of the B Final.

 

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JACKIE KIDDLE and shannon Cox racing in the semifinal lightweight women's scull at the 2023 World rowing championships. photo: Art of Rowing.

Seven Olympic spots are available from this regatta for the Lightweight Women’s Double Sculls event so all A-Finalists qualify as well as the winner of the B Final.

It was a day where the idiosyncrasies of international rowing made for cruel outcomes.

Strong head/side winds buffeted the course where lane allocations were decided by results from previous races. It meant the faster qualifiers had the more sheltered lanes and the slower crews had to contend with the toughest conditions. Very few came through from lanes four, five and six.

The Men’s Coxless Four of Matt Macdonald, Tom Murray, Logan Ullrich and Ollie Maclean drew lane two for their semifinal, sandwiched between world champions Great Britain and Olympic champions Australia.

New Zealand got off to a flier, leading to the 1400m before Great Britain squeezed away to win in 6min 26.39sec with New Zealand second in 6:31.14 and the Aussies a further seven seconds back in third.

Seven spots are available from this regatta for the Men’s Coxless Four event so the New Zealanders can now focus entirely on the next mission, trying to win a medal in the A Final just before 1am (NZT) on Sunday morning.

“We want to go away with some hardware and put our best foot forward in the final and see how we truly stack up against all the crews,” says Macdonald. “It would be a wasted opportunity if we didn't.”

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The Men’s Coxless Four of Matt Macdonald, Tom Murray, Logan Ullrich and Ollie Maclean competing in the semifinal at the 2023 world rowing championships. photo: Art of Rowing.

Three other New Zealand crews put their Olympics aspirations on the line last night.

The Men’s Coxless Pair of Ben Taylor and Phil Wilson were in the outermost lane six for their semifinal.

They finished sixth but were only 10 seconds behind winners Romania.

This is Taylor and Wilson’s first regatta as a combination, and they will line up in the B Final just after 9pm (NZT) on Saturday night with plenty of purpose.

Eleven spots are on offer for Paris for the Men’s Coxless Pair event, a top-five finish will get the boat to the Games in what would be a huge achievement.

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The Men’s Coxless Pair of Ben Taylor and Phil Wilson at the start of the semifinal at the 2023 world rowing championships. photo: art of rowing.

The Men’s Lightweight Double Sculls of Chris Stockley and Matt Dunham also lined up in lane six for their semifinal. They finished fifth in a dramatic race – the German crew tipping out at the halfway mark.

Stockley and Dunham also have plenty to row for in the B Final, where only the winner will be rewarded with a spot in Paris.

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The Men’s Lightweight Double Sculls of Chris Stockley and Matt Dunham at the start of the 2023 world rowing championships. Photo: art of rowing.

And there’s still huge hopes for the Women’s Coxless Four of Phoebe Spoors, Jackie Gowler, Ella Cossill and Davina Waddy. Their fourth-place finish in their semifinal will give them a favourable lane draw in the B Final. Only the winner will qualify the boat for Paris, but New Zealand know they have as-yet untapped boat speed.

And in rowing sometimes, something just clicks, and anything is possible.

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The Women’s Coxless Four of Phoebe Spoors, Jackie Gowler, Ella Cossill and Davina Waddy competing in the semifinal at the 2023 world rowing championships. photo: art of rowing.

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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.