New Zealand M8+ on the Road to Tokyo 2020


The sparkly blue waters on the 4km wide lake, surrounded by a series of small green hills provided an atmospheric backdrop for three days of fierce racing between 9 european countries. Lake Comabbio in Corgeno, Italy, was a perfectly picturesque location for Coupe de la Jeunesse 2019. Also spotted making use of the lake, was the New Zealand senior national team.

Shaun Kirkham admired the facilities, “Normally we train at Varese but it’s been amazing training in Corgeno. It’s great to be able to row 3km laps, allowing you to have a lot of emphasis on each lap you do. We are staying in a house on an equestrian centre, which feels like a home away from home.” Shaun raced in the NZ M8+ that finished 6th at Rio, having represented his country 23 times since his debut in the JM8+ at Junior Worlds in 2009. He sits at three in the current lineup. 

Copyright: Igor Meijer/ FISA    NZ M8+ take to the water in Rotterdam

When asked about his opinions on the Coupe, returning crewmate from Rio and strokeman of this crew, Stephen Jones, praised the organisation and friendly atmosphere, “It seems like a really nice event. It’s really well run and it’s exciting to see so many different countries come together like this”

“It is a great way to develop the junior athletes and the sport. We don’t have a New Zealand equivalent, other than an under 21’s regatta against Australia. We are just too far away for such an event to be feasible for us.” Added Shaun.

However, the New Zealand rowers have a wealth of contrasting junior rowing experience between them. Shaun Kirkham rowed at the Olympic test event at Eton Dorney in 2011. He said, “It was an incredible experience and was a stepping stone to what I went on to do next.”

Stephen Jones had a more difficult experience as a junior, “it was quite depressing, we did not get the results we deserved at the world champs, but it motivated me to improve.”

Copyright: Detlev Seyb/ World Rowing Official    NZ M8+ take bronze at World Cup III in Rotterdam

Brook Robertson missed out on junior selection two years in a row and was on the verge of quitting if it wasn’t for his friend that convinced him to persevere. “I gave it one more crack which is the best decision I made. I had a great summer at a regional performance centre and made the U23 8+ straight after school which was awesome.” That U23 crew in 2013 raced at this year's Senior World Championships venue, Linz, and took home New Zealand's first gold in the event. Brook now sits in the five seat ahead of current Olympic champion and five-time World Champion in the single sculls, Mahe Drysdale. 

Motivated by their successes and failures as junior rowers, they have gone on to produce some exceptional performances on the world stage, including 6 th at the Rio Olympics and most recently, a win at Henley Royal against the GB 8+.

“Having beaten the GB 8+ at Henley Royal in the Grand challenge cup, at World Cup III, they absolutely thumped us,” admitted Brooke. “Germany are also a very strong team and the top three crews are all very close together which will make for some great racing at Worlds.”

“This year is a big year as we are aiming for Olympic selection. This is harder than ever as only 5 crews get selected and the standard is so high. But our aim is to go out and win it.”

Finally, when asked what advice they would give their 17/18 year-old selves, some very important messages came across.

Stephen emphasised, “Persevere, the longer you stick at it. The better you will do.”

“Understand that saying you’ll give 100% means giving 100%. Know that, rowing well as part of a crew, is better than trying to row harder than anyone else whilst not being in time,” added Sean.

Brooke wrapped up the interview with one final piece of advice, “Stop complaining as much. Just do some hard work. If you do work hard, you’ll have a competitive edge over those who don’t.”

Since chatting to the NZ team, the World Championships were held in Linz, Austria from the 25th August to the 1st September and was the first opportunity for boats to qualify for the 2020 Olympics. The NZ 8+ were pipped into an agonising 6th place, just half a second behind the US to miss out on Olympic qualification. They must now wait until the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta held in Lucerne next May to try and qualify. 



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