Two Gold and One Silver – Not Enough for New Zealand

Photo: Rowing New Zealand.
Photo: Rowing New Zealand.

15 August 2016

Göran R Buckhorn writes:

With the end of the 2016 Olympic rowing events in Rio, participating countries started to celebrate the medals that their athletes collected at the regatta. Great Britain ended up on top of the Medal Table with three gold and two silver medals, while Germany and New Zealand shared the second place, with each country winning two gold and one silver.

For those of us who followed the A finals either on the spot at the Lagoa Stadium at the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon or watched the races in front of the TV, who will ever forget Mahe Drysdale’s incredible win by half a bow ball over Damir Martin, Croatia, the smallest victory margin in the history of Olympic rowing. Drysdale’s countrymen, the ‘powerhouse’ duo Eric Murray and Hamish Bond, in the pairs, also cashed in a gold medal which was expected. The third Olympic Kiwi medal, a silver in the pairs, was won by Rebecca Scown (her second Olympic medal after taking a bronze in the boat class in 2012) and Genevieve Behrent.

However, disappointed voices have already been raised in New Zealand – two rowing gold and one silver were not enough, it seems, as a medal jackpot on the water was expected for the New Zealand male and female rowers, according to Kiwi newspapers. The target set by Rowing New Zealand and its major sponsor, High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ), was five medals or better at Rio. Rowing New Zealand aimed to qualify to all 14 Olympic boat classes, but eventually eleven boats qualified and out of these eight crews were in the A finals – which is not bad – including the women’s eight, a novice class in the Olympics for New Zealand. But ‘only’ three boats medalled.

A lot of money had been dropped in the Kiwi rowers’ hats between the London Games and the Rio Games. HPSNZ has funded nearly NZ$32.07 million (£17.8 million/US$23.03 million) in the rowing programme in this Olympic cycle, and it is now likely that cuts will be made in further funding.

High expectations were set on all the participating Kiwi boats. Many experts predicted that Emma Twigg, the 2014 world champion in the single sculls, was going to give Kim Brennan, Australia, a good fight in the A final for the Olympic gold, but it did not occur. The Kiwi sculler was never able to threaten the Aussie, lagging behind in the fourth position most of the race. Twigg ended up just outside the medal podium, the same result she reached at the London Games four years ago. According to newspapers in her home country, Twigg is now retiring from elite rowing.

Eve Macfarlane and Zoe Stevenson, defending world champions in the double sculls, never reached the A final. The defending world champions in the lightweight double sculls, Julia Edward and Sophie MacKenzie, did reach the A final, ending up in fourth place. The men’s double sculls, with Robert Manson and Christopher Harris, who won their race in the World Cup at Poznan, finished on a fifth and last place in the B final at Rio.

New Zealand’s men’s lightweight four – James Hunter, James Lassche, Peter Taylor and Alistair Bond – who have two world championship silvers under their belt and won two out of the three World Cup events earlier this year (they never competed in Varese) finished fifth in their race in the A final.

Last time New Zealand took an Olympic medal in the men’s eights, a bronze, was in 1976. In Rio, they had the third position for half the race in the A final, but then they slipped down to the very rear, a position they held over the finish line. The women’s eight did better, they kept their fourth position from start to finish, ahead of Canada and the Netherlands, two countries that traditionally have strong crews in the women’s eights.

Understandingly, it is disappointing for the Kiwi rowers, Rowing New Zealand and HPSNZ that not more of the rowers reached the medal podium at these Games. Of course, to help the New Zealand rowers to make their goals for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, HPSNZ and other supporters should not make cuts in the Rowing New Zealand’s budget, as giving less funding to the rowers is counterproductive.

Personally, I am happy to see 21 countries on the Medal Table for the 2016 Olympic rowing in Rio.

Note: This article was updated to correct the amount of countries on the Medal Table, 21 countries is the correct number, and that Emma Twigg won the 2016 FISA European and Final Olympic Qualification Regatta, not the European Championships, which was mentioned in an earlier version of this article.


  1. It’s noted that GB also failed to meet their medal tally, although hopefully the fact we still topped the table overall and took gold and silver in the 8’s will help keep the excellent levels of funding going for the next Olympiad

  2. It is a fine line twixt the hopes of expectation and the evidence of realisation and it would be a sad day for the sport if money solely equalled success. Certainly GB’s table topping performance owes much to Lottery funding but I’m sure the fans of the sport in, say, France or Norway are equally pleased with their athletes performance.

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