They’re the fastest women in the world
Today is International Women’s Day. While a solitary special day is hardly the only time to celebrate the contributions and achievements of so many incredible women in the sport of rowing, World Rowing is taking this opportunity to talk about the speed of women and shine light on one of the fastest partnerships in the world at present.
Meet Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler of New Zealand.
Prendergast and Gowler are one of the most recognisable duos in international rowing today with their record-breaking speed in the women’s pair. They first came to note in 2014 in the under-23 pair when they cruised to an easy victory with a World Best Time of 7:02.89. Since then they have only continued to get faster.
Later in 2014, Predergast and Gowler teamed up with Kayla Pratt and Kelsey Bevan in the women’s four at the World Rowing Championships. Their time of 6:14.36 slashed more than ten seconds off of the World Best Time, a result that had barely moved more than a second since the early 1990s.
“We hadn’t been rowing the four for very long,” says Gowler. “We weren’t completely sure where we would be in the four field, so it was pretty special to be able to come away with the gold and a new World Best Time.”
For Prendergast, the feeling was mutual: “I never race with any sort of numbers or speeds in front of me. I was already happy with just winning the race, but when I found out the time we had done, I was obviously very stocked and a bit surprised.”
Back to the pair
Despite a focus on the women’s eight in the lead up to Rio 2016, the duo continued to knock more seconds off the pair, posting a 6:56.75 finish for silver at the 2015 World Rowing Championships. In that race, the gold went to reigning champions, Britain’s legendary Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, who had set a new World Best Time in 2014 (6:50.61) and went on to take Olympic gold.
The 2017 year proved again to be exceptional for Prendergast and Gowler. At the 2017 World Rowing Cup II they set a new World Best Time of 6:49.08 with a dominating finals race.
“For the pair, it was sort of an unspoken goal of ours,” says Prendergast of setting a new World Best Time. “Conditions obviously play a huge role in being able to set quick times, so it was something that we both wanted to achieve but we couldn’t really put a time frame on when it would be possible.
“We both knew that there was a potential we could go sub 6:50 but to do it we couldn’t focus solely on that because it would probably take our focus away from what works for us in a race and how we make our combination work.”
Balance and focus
“We both have different strengths and weaknesses,” explains Gowler. “We both have the same approach to training and racing and are usually on the same page with how the boat is feeling and how we want to row. But I would say that I am a bit more fiery in the boat, whereas Grace is a bit calmer.” Their shared focus and different personalities, believes Gowler, “balance each other out.”
Prendergast recalls how they seemed to “click, as soon as we jumped into a pair together.” A lot of it comes down to a focus on speed rather than being bogged down in the technique, she suggests. “We probably don’t row a textbook stroke, but have found something that works for us as a combination and focus on refining that as opposed to being ‘technically perfect’.”
As for the four, Prendergast credits similar rowing style and solid coaching. “Our coach that year, Marion Horwell, did a good job at merging us into a crew in a short space of time.”
Looking forward and some words of inspiration
“Setting a World Best Time is obviously an amazing thing to have achieved,” says Gowler, “but we are fully aware every country is training to be faster.”
For Gowler and Prendergast, like so many of the world’s best making the most of their time includes preparing not only for many more years at the top of the sport, but also what comes next after that. “I’ve completed my degree and am currently doing my Masters in business,” says Prendergest, while Gowler is working on a degree in psychology. As for rowing, the focus for both is on giving and getting the most of their time in the sport.
“Being an athlete has a limited life span,” says Gowler, “so I think it is important to really take the time to enjoy the experience. When it comes to setting and achieving goals, I think that having a clear plan is important and knowing that hard work and perseverance will pay off eventually.”
“I think it’s important to realise that things take time and there will more than likely be a few disappointments and setbacks along the way,” says Prendergast. “What you take away and learn from those will definitely help you to achieve your goal, if you are willing to stick it out. It will also make it so much more worth it when you achieve it.”
Find out more about World Best Times here.