by Maria Giulia Parrinelli (translated by Gillian Shaw) source text
With a surface area only slightly smaller than Italy’s, there are less than one tenth of the inhabitants. Its climate and environment are very similar to Italy’s too. Yet, while boasting a not insignificant population of sheep and one of the strongest national rowing squads in the world. Obviously we are talking about New Zealand.
Two young women have come onto the All Blacks rowing scene: the charming Holly Fletcher, whom I met in China and this year is an Under 23 athlete; and the lovely Caroline Pearson, who I got to know through the magical world of blogging. Between us we were able to compare both sides of the same coin: rowing at national level from Holly’s perspective, class of ‘94, and that of junior rowing from Caroline. Draw your own conclusions while I pack to move there.
Rowing in New Zealand
When and how did you get into rowing?
Holly: “I started rowing in the last two years of high school – summer 2009. I had been a competitive swimmer for about 7 years and in the training break, my Mum took me to the local club to learn how to row. A week later, I left swimming and began rowing”.
Caroline: “I’ve been rowing for 4 years. I started at the end of my first year in high school; one of the best coaches was my teacher and suggested I had a go”.
What is rowing like in New Zealand?
H: “Here rowers have to be focussed and devoted towards training to be able to do what they do – day after day, in everything from work to studying. It’s not a summer sport any more, like it used to be, but to be really competitive you have to train the whole year even when it is really cold in the morning. Even if rowing isn’t the most popular sport (a bit tricky with rugby) it’s growing fast and it’s becoming more important”.
C: “Here rowing is a great sport! We are the best in the world and have incredible athletes. Most people know the names of our best rowers. I don’t think there is much to change in our system, it seems to be doing well considering that we are amongst the world’s best!”
How do you get into the National Squad?
H: “Athletes who want to get into the national squad have to enter the regional squad trials. Then they compete in the summer (October to February) to get into the national squad. During that time, there are ergo tests: 5k in November and 2k in January. These results are added to those from the national championships at the end of February; these then feed into a list of athletes who will take part in the trials that take place a week after the championships. Trials consist of a 2k ergo test and then selection races 5 days later.
C: “Obviously, the national squad is really aspirational but so difficult to get into!”
And if you wanted to take part in the national competitions?
H: “The ‘New Zealand Club Nationals’ are in the middle of February (at the end of our summer). Of course there are smaller regattas before then but that is the pinnacle of the season. There are different levels: “Novice”, “Club” and “Senior” are strictly for club rowers only (that is, not part of the national squad), and then there are the U20, U22 and Premier races which are open to anyone, but they are usually very competitive”.
C: “All the races here are 2k and we have two national regattas per year, the club nationals and the Secondary School Nationals called the Maadi Cup; it’s the biggest school sporting event in the southern hemisphere, with over 2,000 competitors”.
How much do you train?
H: “The week runs like this: every weekday morning at 5.45 and Saturdays at 7. Usually we do about 20 kilometres either all together or in distance pieces. On weekday afternoons we do 2 or 3 ergo sessions, usually of an hour and then distance work. We also do 2 – 3 weights sessions and one of cycling”.
C: “I currently train 11 times a week (3 times on the ergo, 3 weights sessions and 5 on the water). When school starts, though, I do 7 (2 on the ergo, one session of running and 4 in the boat)”.
Is it possible to combine studying and training?
H: “Yes it’s possible to study and row here. I am currently studying for a double degree, one in Sports’ Science and Management and the other in Management. There are fees discounts for students who represent New Zealand: our fees are paid and some of our expenses. But even if you are not a high-level athlete there are university study bursaries available”.
C: “In the rowing season it is hard to keep up with studies. I don’t think we get enough help with time management. When we miss a lesson to travel or train, it’s difficult to catch up”.
What’s the atmosphere like at your club?
H: “It’s important to have a good relationship with your coach and your crewmates, given how much time you spend together. If you don’t get on well, training and competing gets really hard. I’ve always tried to get along with the majority of the girls in the squad, I’ve really enjoyed it even when sometimes I don’t like or don’t agree with what my coach has said. It’s important to listen to him because otherwise the crew will not work so well together”.
C: “In the last year I haven’t had such a good relationship with my coach, but luckily there are 3 others who I have liked and respected so overall I am satisfied! Two of my coaches were ex-national squad members and knew a thing or two”.
And Italian rowing?
H: “I don’t know much about Italian rowing, but all the rowers I have met in Italy are really exceptional”.
C: “From what I know it seems pretty good. I remember watching the 2x at the London Olympics. There was our crew too who won right at the end, just beating the Italians. What an amazing race!”