Rowing is currently New Zealand’s most successful Olympic sport and at the London Olympics the Kiwis won three gold medals. Now when these rowers race the nation takes notice. So do the rowers as national team selectors use the results to help determine who will get a trial for the national team.

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Held at Lake Ruataniwha in the South Island of the New Zealand, the lake is known for its stunning scenery and its slow race times due to the cold water.

In the absence of Olympic Champion, Mahe Drysdale, on a six-month sabbatical from rowing, the men’s premier single turned into a three-horse race between two Olympians from the men’s quadruple sculls, Robert Manson and Michael Arms and Olympic Champion from the double, Nathan Cohen. Big sprinter Cohen was two lengths down with 300m left to row when he upped the pace and overtook Arms and Manson. Cohen won with Arms and Manson going to a photo finish for second and third respectively. Meanwhile watching from the shore was Drysdale.

“It was a fast pace out there. I wanted to get to a good level to seal my place in the New Zealand squad,” said Cohen. “Today was a good start, I wanted to make sure I was competitive. Mahe Drysdale and Rob Waddell have dominated this race for a decade and a half, so it is nice to be in that company.”

With national team selectors in attendance Cohen hinted that he would like to compete in the quadruple sculls on this year’s national team.

Third placed Manson picked up a second premier title when he teamed up with Olympic Champion Joseph Sullivan to win the men’s premier double sculls. Coming in second was Cohen’s younger brother Hayden who was racing with his under-23 World Champion partner Nathan Flannery.
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Daniele Gilardoni from Italy celebrates his victory in the Men's lightweight single sculls Final A at the SAMSUNG World Rowing Cup I 2011 in Munich (GER) on Saturday, May 28 (Photo by Detlev Seyb / MyRowingPhoto.com).

The women’s premier single was won for a fifth time by Emma Twigg. Twigg, 25, was fourth in the single at the London Olympics and she also raced at the Beijing Olympics in the single. But lately Twigg has been dabbling in the pair with Rebecca Scown, replacing Scown’s Olympic partner, Juliette Haigh, who retired following their London Olympic bronze medal.

The lightweight men’s single sculls turned international when German Jost Schoemann-Finck won. Schoemann-Finck missed out on making his country’s London Olympic lightweight men’s four so decided to do his “own thing” this year. Schoemann-Finck has been training in Australia and will stay ‘downunder’ to compete in the Samsung World Rowing Cup in Sydney at the end of March.

Schoemann-Finck and New Zealand’s Olympic bronze medallist, Peter Taylor were neck-and-neck with 250m to go. Taylor pushed hard to the line, but Schoemann-Finck kept his strokes long and moved away from Taylor who looked exhausted at the finish. Former World Champion in the lightweight single, Duncan Grant was third.

The strength of lightweight women’s rowing came through in the lightweight women’s single with Lucy Strack beating last year’s winner Julia Edward to the line. Edward, who raced at the London Olympics in the lightweight double, finished third after Sophie MacKenzie got into the second-place spot.

The men’s premier pair had Olympic Champion Hamish Bond racing with another national team representative, Jade Uru. Touted as the favourites, the race did not go Bond and Uru’s way when their steering broke during the race forcing them to stop. But sheer determination meant that they were still able to win.  

Following this regatta, athletes will be selected for national team trials for 2013. The national team will then be decided in early March in time for the Sydney World Rowing Cup.