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New Zealand awarded 2019 World Rowing Female Crew and Coach of the Year

  • 23 Nov 19

The exceptional success of Rowing NZ’s vibrant women’s rowing programme has been doubly rewarded after Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler – World Rowing Championship gold medallists in the pair and eight – were presented the FISA (World Rowing) Female Crew of the Year Award and their coach, Gary Hay, secured the FISA Coach of the Year Award.

New Zealand’s women secured an unprecedented haul of four gold medals and one silver medal at the World Rowing Championships in Linz, Austria and also topped the first four positions in the 2019 FISA women’s world rankings during a momentous year.

There is little doubt that Grace and Kerri – the world’s number one and two ranked female rowers in 2019 – are deserving recipients of the FISA Crew of the Year.

After winning two golds and one silver during the World Rowing Cup campaign, the duo then dazzled at the World Rowing Championships, striking gold in the pair and also helping New Zealand claim an historic first women’s world title in the eight.

Speaking ahead of the World Rowing Awards Dinner in London on 22 November, which Grace has chosen not to attend due to her training commitments, she said: “I am really honoured to receive the award as it is very hard to distinguish the merits of one crew from another. It is a bit of a surprise, but I’m very happy.”

Kerri of Aromoho Whanganui Rowing Club, who first sat in a boat ten years ago as a Nga Tawa Diocesan High School student in the Manawatu, was similarly elated at banking the prestigious accolade: “Grace and I have had an awesome season, and to be given the FISA female crew of the year award is pretty special because women’s rowing is so competitive and there are so many great crews.”

The duo first sat in a boat together as part of the elite women’s eight in 2013 and the following year formed a pair, which struck gold at the 2014 World Rowing U23 Championships. Both also featured in the triumphant women’s four which set a world’s best time en route to gold at 2014 World Rowing Championships.

Grace, who started rowing out of Villa Maria College in Christchurch 12 years ago and represents Avon Rowing Club, said the duo gelled quickly after first coming together as a pair at the 2014 Rowing NZ Trials: “We clicked straight away and it felt very natural,” she said. “I think pairs either work or they don’t and we had a natural ability to row with each other.”

In 2017, Grace and Kerri emerged as Rowing NZ’s first choice elite women’s pair and snared the World Rowing Championship title as well as setting a world best time. Last year they settled for silver at the 2018 edition, before regaining their world title earlier this year by defeating the Australian duo of Jessica Morrison and Annabelle McIntyre by more than a two-second margin.

The dynamic duo then showed great versatility, not to mention incredible reserves of endurance, to feature in the gold medal-winning women’s eight crew, which finished more than two-and-a-half seconds clear of Australia.

Kerri, who is 25, insisted that although the pair share a great desire to fulfil their potential, the key to their success is the different qualities they bring to the boat.

“Grace is very calm and collected and I can be a little more fiery – but I think that we complement each other really well.”

Grace, 27, agreed with Kerri’s sentiments, adding, “Being different in personality we are able to challenge each other a bit more. It can be challenging at times to be different, but I think it is really needed as a pair.”

The FISA Female Crew of the Year also take enormous pride in the unique feat of claiming gold medals as part of two crews at the World Rowing Championships.

Grace and Kerri acknowledged the huge role played by their team-mates in the eight, particularly the reserves – Ruby Tew and Kirstyn Goodger – in making winning double gold possible, with Grace insisting the task of switching boats is far from straightforward.

“The biggest challenge is the difference in technique between the pair and the eight,” she said. “To settle into a rhythm and feel the boat takes times in the pair. By comparison, the eight is very intense and you have to be more accurate. We were very lucky the other six girls set such a fluid rhythm and it was easy to follow them.”

Both women are relishing the 2020 campaign and insisted they are striving to row quicker in future. The oarswomen acknowledged the crucial role their coach, Gary Hay, played in their success.

“He always keeps things simple and in perspective; we really appreciate having him as our coach,'' said Grace. “He never gets wound up over things that don’t really matter and always goes out of his way to make sure everything is organised, so we can focus on life on the water.”

Gary, who has been a Rowing NZ coach since 2011, was “proud” to win the FISA Coach of the Year Award after guiding Grace and Kerri and the women’s eight to gold at the World Championships.

More than any personal joy he feels at receiving the accolade, however, the 54-year-old former Rangiruru Girls’ School coach said he was delighted at the way the women bounced back after a difficult 2018 campaign, in which the women’s programme won two silver medals at the World Rowing Championships.

“We had to come home, re-group and think about how we were going to get better in 2019 – an Olympic qualifying year,” explained Gary. “We had to look at what needed to change, and everyone, from the coaches, rowers, support staff and management, all contributed to that change. The 2019 results were no fluke – it was a combination of a hard effort by everyone.

“We worked on developing squad unity and culture and all the women in the squad followed the same training programme. I think this helped at the World Rowing Championships because when the women saw other crews succeeding they knew that they had also done the same work, and this was important.”

‘’Our results are also a testament to our Convenor of Selectors, Barrie Mabbott; not only his role as Convenor, but also the continued support he provided to me throughout the season.’’

Besides the success of Kerri and Grace and the women’s eight, Brooke Donoghue and Olivia Loe (coached by James Coote) struck gold in the women’s double sculls; Zoe McBride and Jackie Kiddle (also coached by Coote), who were among the nominees for the FISA Female Crew of the Year award, took top spot in the lightweight double sculls; and Emma Twigg won a silver medal in the single sculls.

Yet it would be remiss for Gary not to mention Kerri and Grace and what the duo have achieved during a golden 2019 campaign.

“They are special rowers but also special people,” he explained. “They rarely have an off day in training or competition and are constantly looking to improve. The fact they were able to double up and win two gold medals at the World Rowing Championships shows just how special they are.”

Rowing NZ Chief Executive Simon Peterson said: “Kerri and Grace being awarded the 2019 World Rowing Women’s Crew of the Year Award has capped an already phenomenal year for our women’s programme. Taking double gold at the 2019 World Rowing Championships was the greatest achievement for the pair, particularly special given 2019 was also the first year in New Zealand’s rowing history that we were crowned world champions in the women’s eight. We are incredibly proud of Kerri and Grace and look forward to working alongside them as we approach the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

“Receiving notice that New Zealand had won not one but two FISA awards, thanks to Gary Hay winning the Coach of the Year Award, was remarkable.”

Rowing NZ General Manager Performance Judith Hamilton added, “The 2019 World Rowing Championships saw nine boats qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and New Zealand ranked top of the points table with six Olympic-class medals. This has been an incredible year for our women’s programme across the board, and having Kerri and Grace win the 2019 Women’s Crew of the Year Award alongside their coach, Gary Hay, taking the 2019 Coach of the Year Award, was icing on the cake.”

Judith is one of several women to hold key high performance positions at Rowing NZ. Lisa Holton serves as the HP Operations Manager, Michele Munro as the HP Co-ordinator and Annika Wing as HP Athlete Development Leader.

To add further gloss to the outstanding achievements of the women’s programme in 2019, the Hannah Starnes-coached New Zealand quad crew of Eva Hofmans, Rebecca Leigh, Shakira Mirfin and Phoebe Trolove also struck gold at the World Rowing Junior Championships in Tokyo.