Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler rowed a perfectly judged women’s pair final to earn New Zealand’s first gold medal of the Tokyo Olympics today.
The New Zealanders, world champions and having set the world best time in the event in their semi-final, were strong favourites. But it’s one thing being favoured; it’s another to deliver on the day.
Prendergast , 29, and Gowler, 27, soon slotted into second behind the flying Canadians and looked comfortable and composed. By the halfway point, the Canadians still led by 0.41s, but it was clear the New Zealanders were gaining.
Over the third quarter the strength of the New Zealanders told and they grabbed the lead as the Canadians faded. In the race to the line, it was the strong Russian team that gained marginally, but the New Zealanders were never in danger of surrendering their lead.
Prendergast and Gowler have had a busy Olympics – they are also members of the well-performed New Zealand eight that will contest the final tomorrow.
This is the first Olympic gold New Zealand has won in the women’s pair, though there have been close shaves before. Way back in 1988, Nikki Payne and Lynley Hannan grabbed a surprise bronze in Seoul. In London in 2012 Juliette Haigh and Rebecca Scown repeated the effort and in Rio in 2016 Scown and Genevieve Behrent went one better, taking silver.
Gowler said afterwards she had a moment of slight doubt after the race. “We crossed and I was like, ‘Was someone ahead of us?’ I was just so focused on us so I was like, ‘Did we do it?’ Honestly, I can't believe it.”
She said it had been a long campaign and she was disappointed all the New Zealand rowing supporters and family could not be in Tokyo to celebrate. “But we hope we have made you proud!”
Prendergast said the final was a “whirlwind”, but that she took confidence from knowing they were the fastest team.
“It was a hard race. We were just heads down and go - and it was going really fast,” she said. “It's been such a good season, but this is the cherry on top. I’m just so stoked!”
After the race and the mandatory international interviews, Prendergast and Gowler got on with more important business – they were out training with the women’s eight in preparation for tomorrow’s final.Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games