The Australian Women?s Double Scull provided a slightly unexpected Gold Medal at this year’s Rowing World Championships held at the Eton School course, Lake Dorney near Windsor in the UK. SUWRC rowers Brooke Pratley and Liz Kell had performed exceptionally well in this boat at the final National Selection Trials and because their prognostic time looked like it might make them a medal prospect the selectors decided to choose them together in the Double for the World Champs. Although the Quad was the priority boat in Women?s sculling and there was clear indication that at least one of these rowers had qualified for that boat the brief of RA to the selectors and the opportunity for a medal in another Olympic class boat saw this pair sent to SA Institute to prepare under coach Adrian David.
Their European campaign began poorly at Lucerne with Liz Kell arriving too sick to row and Brooke Pratley forced to try the single in her first big international regatta. Earlier in Adelaide they had been out of the boat for a few weeks when intensive sprint work had resulted in a quad injury to Liz.
As the W2X unfolded at Eton it was clear from the start that the selector?s faith in this boat was well placed. The Aussies started in Heat 3 and ran a close second all the way to Belarus. It was more the fluency and smoothness of this double that heartened the Aussie supporters and RA coaches on the bank. Their long and rhythmic stroking and accurate technical work from the outset looked capable of delivering medal results. As a matter of fact a number of supporters started to recall the technical perfection of that other great Aussie Double of Antonie and Hawkins, winners of the gold at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
This particular event has been dominated since 2002 by the Evers-Swindell sisters of New Zealand and as reigning Olympic and World Champions they were considered hot favourites once again. Indeed the Kiwis cruised to a 3 second win in their heat and without pressure went just a fraction slower than Belarus and 0.7 secs faster than the Aussies.
In the semi-finals on day 4 our girls met the Kiwis head to head in semi-final 1 with the Kiwis taking the race by 1.6 seconds in the faster of the two semis from the Aussies. At the 1000 metre mark the two crews were almost even and so supporters and the crew knew the basic speed and endurance was in place for a medal in the final.
Day 6 was final day and the breeze which had blown as strong tail all week was suddenly that bit stronger. There were some whitecaps and plenty of troughs on the course. Discussion in the stands among the Aussies centred on the anticipated contest between our double and the Kiwis. Experienced watchers wondered if the Kiwis deep stroking style with strong emphasis on body lift and swing would hinder them in these conditions with the following water quite rough. On the other hand would the difficult conditions upset the smooth and rhythmic Australians.
The first 500 followed a familiar pattern with the Kiwis starting strongly in lane 3 but only shading Australia by 0.3 secs at the first mark. The other semi winner Belarus in lane 4 was third at this stage 0.6 behind Australia. Soon after the first 500 Brooke and Liz raised the tempo again and began a long drive that took them to the lead at the 1000 by just 0.6 seconds. However mindful of the sprinting ability of other crews, particularly the New Zealanders, the Aussies continued their drive and continued to open a further lead that they felt they may need as a buffer in the final stages if they were to claim gold,
Already at the 1000m mark the crowd felt an upset was brewing. Some behind this correspondent in the grandstand opined that ?Liz Kell won?t be beaten from here? ? I assume the same applied to Brooke. At the 1500 metre point the times flashed onto the giant screens and a roar went up from the noisy contingent of Aussies as it became clear that our crew had established a ?gold medal? lead of 1.6 second over the Evers-Swindell combination with Belarus fading badly into 6th and the Germans moving through from 5th at the 500, 4th at the 1000 and now into 3rd a second behind New Zealand.
As the crews approached 1750 both the Kiwis and Germans were sprinting. The Aussies were holding them at bay. Just 150 meters to go and the Aussies in front by about a metre from NZ and a metre to the fast finishing Germans. The Kiwis were flying now and 100 meters out looked to almost draw level and then unbelievably after being put under intense pressure by our crew the whole race their run faltered just 50 metres out and the Germans stormed through to second, threatened the Aussies and the finish line arrived. In the stands the Aussies went up, the Kiwis fell silent our crew crossed just 0.3 ahead of Germany with Kiwis third.
A great moment for Australian rowing, a sad moment for champions dethroned and the second only ever World Championship in rowing to rowers from Sydney University rowing.
Our photo shows Liz and Brooke receiving their gold medals on the podium at Eton. Thanks must go to our coaches who assisted these athletes in their development. In particular Inna Frolova who recognised Brooke?s potential from the day she stepped into the SUWRC boatshed at Glebe, to Phil Bourguignon who coached Liz at the Linley Point shed this season and Lyall McCarthy and team at the AIS who have developed Brooke the past two seasons after Inna?s retirement. Of course it is the athletes who do the hardest work and a World championship in an Olympic Class boat does not come without single-minded dedication. Congratulations Liz and Brooke ? World Champions ? Women?s Double Scull 2006