The heat’s coming on all crews at the world champs and the New Zealanders are hanging in nicely

 

The margins are tightening as the world’s best rowers aimed up for finals weekend on day four of the World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.

Margin for error is quickly shrinking and so is the gap between the top boats as the quarterfinals got underway.

Five of the New Zealand crews stayed on course for the A Finals and the opportunity to secure the limited number of qualifying spots for next year’s Paris Olympics.

Thomas Mackintosh continued his lightning-speed trajectory in the Men’s Single Sculls. A virtual novice in the event when selected for the boat in June, he was probably in the toughest quarterfinal which included Norway’s Olympic silver medallist Kjetil Borch and current world champion Ollie Zeidler from Germany.

Mackintosh has been embracing the challenge of combining what he learned as an Olympic gold medallist in the Men’s Eight two years ago with rowing the single.

“The boat’s a lot more delicate than the men’s eight... if you throw all your energy and mass at it like you might at the eight, it's just quite a hard thing to do, because the way the boat moves in the water is there's not as much margin for error.

"There are some big athletes at this event. Historically we had guys like Mahe Drysdale, sitting just north of 2 metres and around 100 kilos, Ollie's certainly got some size to him. As does [Dutchman] Simon Van Dorp...they're big ergs, big strong guys...and I'm just leaning into it."

Mackintosh crossed in second place just a boat length behind Zeidler, who tapered off in the last 200m to win in 7min 06.01sec.

“Ollie is obviously the one to beat, he's moving the boat really well at the moment and he's a reigning world champion, but he's just another competitor at the end of the day, albeit a good one, so I'm definitely using him as a yardstick to see how fast I can make this boat go.”

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Tom mackintosh racing in the Men's Single Scull quarterfinals at the 2023 World Rowing Championships. Photo: Art of Rowing. 

Emma Twigg is easily one of the most experienced athletes in the Women’s Single Sculls and one of the most respected too.

The 36-year-old's been competing in the boat class since 2007.

Twigg was pushed by Lithuania’s Viktorija Senkute but always looked in control of the opening quarterfinal to finish in 7:52.44. Her three main rivals each won their quarters in similar times: Australia’s Tara Rigney in 7:56.73; Kara Kohler of the United States in 7:52.41; Karolien Florijn from the Netherlands in 7:53.39.

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Emma twigg racing in the Women's single scull quarterfinals at the 2023 rowing world championships. Photo: art of rowing

Rob Hamill is also a household name in the sport. He rowed on the Sava River course in Zagreb, Croatia in his final world championships 23 years ago. He finished sixth that year in the Lightweight Men’s Single Sculls.

These days the Hamill name flows through to his oldest son Finn, and as coincidence so often has it in sport, he’s also competing the Men’s Lightweight Single...on the same Sava River...if only 400km south-east of Zagreb.

Rob was 36 when he competed in those championships, a seasoned and conditioned athlete. Finn’s just 21 and still developing.

He was in contention up to the 1000m mark but faded to finish sixth and will fight for a spot in the C or D final.

Hamill was the only New Zealander in action today not rowing for an Olympic spot, the lightweight single sculling events don’t feature on the programme in Paris, although he’s made no secret of the fact he’s aiming for a seat in the Men’s Lightweight Double Sculls next year.

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Finn Hamill in the lightweight Men's single sculls quarterfinal at the 2023 world rowing championships. photo: Art of rowing

The current combination of Chris Stockley and Matthew Dunham were pumped after their performance in the heats and were full of belief coming into the quarters.

Norway and Germany made the most of more sheltered water on the inside lanes to open a gap on the rest of the field, the New Zealand boat locked in a struggle with Uruguay for that vital third spot.

The New Zealanders were fourth at the halfway, out to half a length over Uruguay at 1500m and kept improving to finish third, just over 3s behind the winning Norwegian crew.

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Chris Stockley and Matthew Dunham racing in the Lightweight Men's single scull quarterfinal at the 2023 World rowing championships. photo: art of rowing. 

The Men’s Pair of Ben Taylor and Phil Wilson were only put together after the World Cup III regatta in July.

Rowing New Zealand’s Head of Athletic Performance Ryan Turfrey has been watching the new combo get better and better in the build-up to the regatta.

They chased the leading Spanish and United States crews through to the 1500m by which time they’d sealed a spot in the semifinals that will decide whether they row in the A or B final. Twelve crews chasing 11 qualification spots for Paris.

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The Men’s Pair of Ben Taylor and Phil Wilson racing in the quarterfinal at the 2023 world rowing championships. photo: Art of rowing. 

That’s the same formula for the Ben Mason and Robbie Manson in the Men’s Double Sculls after they finished second to Romania in the first quarterfinal.

The New Zealanders hit the lead at 750m and maintained that through to the 1200m.

Manson’s returned to the top tier of the sport after a significant break. The current team culture was a huge factor in finding the enjoyment.

"We've got a special little squad with us and the reserve double, which we call our stunt double, I feel like we're not just doing it for us, we're doing it for them, we really want to qualify the double for the next sculling squad."

"This week is always really stressful, I wouldn't say it's necessarily fun but I kind of look at it in a different way [now] in that it's a privilege to feel this pressure and that you're doing something that's really challenging and hard and it's quite hard to replicate that in everyday life when you're not an athlete."

For Manson and the rest of the New Zealand squad it was a day to celebrate how maximising all those small margins can make a huge difference.

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Ben Mason and Robbie Manson in the Men’s Double Sculls quarterfinal 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.