WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Emma Twigg’s selection for this year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics left the New Zealand rower with a mixed range of emotions: relief, frustration and a resigned determination.
The 2014 world single sculls champion was named in the boat for the Aug. 5-21 Games after returning to New Zealand having spent most of last year pursuing post-graduate studies in Europe.
She was dropped from Rowing New Zealand’s high performance program as a result — all rowers must train at their base — despite the 29-year-old’s confidence she could still maintain the levels required to compete internationally while studying.
Fiona Bourke was instead tasked with qualifying the single scull for Rio at last year’s world championships in France, but finished 16th, leaving Twigg to chase an Olympic spot at the ‘last chance’ regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland from May 22-25.
“I knew that last year I could have qualified the boat with the shape I was in,” Twigg told Reuters via telephone from the high performance base program’s base in Cambridge, about 150 km south of Auckland.
“Whether asking if I regret the decision (to study) then it might be a question for the selectors and potentially the crews who didn’t qualify last year because of me not being there.”
Twigg, however, was now keen to put the 2015 furor behind her and concentrate on Lucerne, while also being careful to avoid any potential falls off her bike, injuries or sudden illnesses before she hits the water in Switzerland.
“At the end of your day you can’t live your life wondering. It was more about personal development and being in Rio, so Murphy’s law suggests there is potential for something to happen then,” she added.
“I’ve been to those regattas before and watched our crews try to qualify. It’s certainly not going to be easy but I believe that if I’m in the best shape I can be, it’s just another step on the way to Rio.”
Up until she left for Europe, Twigg had been making positive strides toward winning an Olympic gold in Rio.
After competing at her first Olympics in Beijing, where she finished ninth overall, Twigg won successive bronze medals at the world championships in 2010 and 2011.
She finished fourth at the London Olympics, then took silver at the worlds in 2013 before moving up a step up by claiming her first global championship title in Amsterdam in 2014 prior to embarking on her studies.
While studying in Leicester for the first part of her course, her training was restricted to a lot of indoor work because the course was only about 1,000 meters long and she said barely wide enough to hold a single scull.
“It meant that I didn’t get as much time on the water but I made the most of my time on the erg (rowing machine), doing weights and fitness,” she said. “But every place I went to, the water got better and better.
“I worked really hard and then it was just about coming home and proving that I’m as good as, if not better than when I left in 2014.”
Having been out of international competition for the best part of two years by the time she lines up at Lucerne, Twigg has been keeping an eye on her competitors for Rio.
Australia’s world champion Kim Brennan (formerly Crow) and London Olympic champion Miroslava Knapkova are the two rowers she expects to be her most dangerous rivals for gold in Rio.
“I think Kim will be the biggest threat. Miroslava Knapkova was Olympic champion in 2012 and there is a good Chinese sculler as well,” Twigg said.
“But it’s a funny thing in the single, there are people who can show form who have never shown form before and you never really know. The Olympics is a whole new kettle of fish.”
(This version of the story corrects to remove university name in 11th paragraph)
Editing by John O'Brien