Can the new Olympic champion rowing pair bring home a pair of golds from Tokyo? Are we about to see one of NZ’s greatest Olympic days? LockerRoom’s daily wrap of our Kiwi sportswomen continues.

Performances of the day

There’s no more rewarding way to overcome the disappointment of being snubbed for one Olympics than to claim gold at the next.

For five years, women’s rowing pair Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler strived to bounce back from missing out to another Kiwi pair at the 2016 Rio Games, and line-up in Tokyo. Along the way, they became world champions, smashed world bests and, on Thursday afternoon, they became the Olympic champions.

But at first, the understated, humble duo weren’t sure whether they’d done it. As they crossed the line, Gowler started yelling at Prendergast: “Have we got it?”

Their coach, Gary Hay, didn’t see it – he was hiding, he said. He can’t watch finals. The pair had to tell him later how the race unfolded.

Back in Cambridge, Juliette Drysdale, an Olympic bronze medallist in the pair in 2012, watched through tears. She was proud of how Gowler, 27, and Prendergast, 29, had stayed so committed to their plan. 

“They’ve really hung in there, not only through Covid, but going right back to Rio when they missed out on the pair and then continued on. They are both such calm individuals, and they’ve really bided their time,” she said.  

“They’ve been determined to really enjoy the journey and not make it all about winning a medal. I just feel so proud not only have they achieved the Olympic gold, but with all the small steps they’ve taken along the way, they’ve managed to celebrate and appreciate each other.”

YouTube video

There was little rest for the Olympic champions – back out on the Sea Forest Waterway a couple of hours after their victory, for a training row with the rest of the women’s eight.

A second gold medal could be a reality for the pair on Friday with New Zealand, the reigning world champions, favourites in the eights final. Prendergast didn’t think it would be a tough ask to give their all again, 24 hours after holding off a fast-finishing Russian Olympic Committee crew to claim gold.

“Once we sort of recover from this, it is all go now. But the excitement the other girls bring – it’s such a cool bunch – we can’t wait to get out there and go again,” Prendergast says.

The pair’s proud parents were at the NZHQ in Auckland watching the race together. Gowler’s dad Brent, up from Taharoa in the Waikato, was always confident the pairing – who’ve had a natural synergy since they were placed in a boat together seven years ago – could win gold.

“They’ve been building their repertoire for quite some time – their tool box is quite huge,” he said. “Kerri’s quite fiery, if she wants something she’s going make it happen. Grace settles her down a bit.’’

He has two daughters in the eight; Jackie Gowler is the stroke in the crew. “They’ll want it bad, so they’ll give it a nudge, don’t worry about that,” he said.

It was New Zealand’s first Olympic gold medal in the women’s pair, and rowing’s 12th gold, and 26th Olympic medal overall.

There’s a strong chance they’ll add three more to the tally on Friday – in both men’s and women’s eights, and Emma Twigg in the single sculls.

Twigg cruised through her semifinal, beating Brit Victoria Thornley by over 4s. She has the fastest time of the six finalists, but she won’t be caught out counting her chickens – after finishing just outside the medals at the last two Olympics.

“Kerri and Grace are phenomenal athletes and they’ve really set the standard for our whole team this year. So we know if we are close to them on the prognostic sheet, then we’re going to be in the hunt. Tomorrow is going to be an amazing day as well for New Zealand.”

Images of the day

The NZ rowing team in Tokyo go wild as Prendergast and Gowler win gold – and Gowler’s sister, Jackie, stroke in the NZ eight, totally overcome with emotion.  Kerri Gowler’s response: “That got me going; I didn’t expect that from her.”

Quote of the day

“We crossed and I was like ‘Was someone ahead of us? I don’t know’. I was just so focused on us. So I was like ‘Did we do it?’ Honestly I can’t believe it.” Kerri Gowler, Olympic gold medallist in the women’s rowing pair. 

The good news

It wasn’t the start BMX hopeful Rebecca Petch wanted in her Olympic debut – the three-time national champion crashing in her first race of three on Thursday. But it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish: she picked up a third and second to qualify for the semifinals on Friday.

The 23-year-old spectacularly flipped over her handlebars on a corner, but got up and finished fifth. Her Japanese competitor Sae Hatakeyama was not as fortunate, not returning to the track after her first race crash.

It’s a magnificent first-time achievement for Petch, selected ahead of her idol, 2012 Olympic silver medallist Sarah Walker.

Kiwi Rebecca Petch (in black) had a strong start to her first Olympic BMX race, but crashed soon after this jump. Photo: Getty Images. 

The long-awaited Black Ferns Sevens’ first hit-out against Kenya was patchy at times, but the World Cup champions came away with a 29-7 win at Tokyo Stadium.

Tries to Stacey Fluhler, Michaela Blyde, Portia Woodman and Gayle Broughton gave an indication of what the side are capable of. But the patience of the Kenyan Lionesses was rewarded when Christabel Lindo slipped through the Kiwi defence to score in the first half.

In their second pool game, three consecutive, converted tries in the first half to Great Britain put the 2016 Rio silver medallists under the pump early on.

With an unexpected 21-0 lead to GB, Michaela Blyde managed to get two quick tries in just before half-time which put the Kiwis back within striking range, 21-12.

Roles reversed in the second-half with New Zealand touching down through Tyla Nathan-Wong. And Blyde sealed the win in the last minute after GB’s Jasmine Joyce was sin binned for a high tackle on Woodman.

Eve Thomas took out her 800m freestyle heat, skimming six seconds off her personal best. The 20-year-old was trailing in second for most of the race behind Kristel Kobrich from Chile, but she took over in the last 50m to finish with a time of 8m 32.51.But her time fell short of qualifying in the top eight for the final.

The not-so-good-news

Two of our 2016 Rio silver medallists bowed out of these Games on Thursday without any extra metal in their carry-on luggage. 

Natalie Rooney finished 10th overall after the second day of trap shooting qualifications. It was a big improvement from 18th after day one, and she ended her campaign with a score of 117 targets hit from 125. But it wasn’t enough for the Timaru shooter to progress to the medal round in the top six.

Two days after finishing sixth in the K1 canoe slalom, Luuka Jones got as far as the semifinals of the C1, where she had a rough ride – touching three gates on her run to end up 13th overall, well outside the top 10 final. Disappointed with her finish, Jones however was excited for the future – she’s keen to compete in a new event at the Paris 2024 Olympics, the extreme slalom.

Sailor Erica Dawson and her Nacra 17 partner Micah Wilkinson struggled to get clear from the middle of the fleet on their second day of racing on Enoshima Harbour on Thursday. With finishes of 11th, 8th and 12th, they’re still 12th overall after six races. 

Ali Galyer finished eighth in her 200m backstroke heat. She does not advance to the semifinals.

And the Black Sticks suffered their second defeat on the trot, narrowly losing to Australia 1-0 in a game dominated by defence. The loss doesn’t mean the New Zealanders are out of the running for hockey’s quarterfinals, though. They would need to lose their final pool match against China on Saturday by five goals to miss out. 

How cool is this?

Black Fern Selica Winiata made her Olympic debut on Thursday, but with a whistle not a ball. Winiata is is part of World Rugby’s refereeing team at the women’s sevens competition, controlling the China v United States game first-up. 

When the 2021 Rugby World Cup was postponed a year, Winiata turned her focus to refereeing this year. But the 34-year-old hasn’t hung up her playing boots – she’ll be back playing to make the Black Ferns squad for 2022.

Compelling stories flow out of the IOC Refugee Olympic team, like Masomah Ali Zada (pictured below) who rode in the cycling time trial on Wednesday – far from the days she had stones thrown at her while training on the roads of Afghanistan. 

Ali Zada, who sought asylum with her family in France after a race there in 2016, said she hoped her Olympic debut would “send a message of hope and peace” to the 82 million refugees and women who’d been told they weren’t allowed to ride.

And Kimia Alizadeh just fell short of winning the first medal for the Refugee Team. The under 57kg taekwondo athlete who fled Iran and now lives in Germany, beat double Olympic gold medallist Jade Jones of Britain on her way to the bronze medal match. But this time she couldn’t replicate the bronze she won in 2016 – when she was the first woman to win an Olympic medal for Iran.

Rikki’s pick(s)

“There’s so much great action across the board on Friday,” Sky Sports commentator Rikki Swannell says. “But it’s hard to go past the rowers again with Emma Twigg and the women’s eight in the finals. Twigg has eased her way through the single sculls early rounds and that elusive medal is tantalisingly close now, while NZ has never won the women’s eight. After their magnificent gold  on Thursday, Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast could make history by winning two gold medals in the same 24 hours. 

“It could be an astonishing half hour for the Kiwi women on the water.”

Who’s up on Friday

HOCKEY: Black Sticks v Australia, pool game, 12.15am

EQUESTRIAN: Jonelle Price, three-day eventing dressage, 11.30am and 8.30pm

ROWING: Emma Twigg, women’s single scull final, 12.30pm; women’s eight, final, 1pm

BMX: Rebecca Petch, semifinals, 1.15pm

SEVENS: Black Ferns v Russia, 2.30pm; quarterfinals, 8.30pm

SAILING: Alex Maloney and Molly Meech, 49er FX, 5.45pm

TRAMPOLINE: Maddie Davidson, qualification and final, 4pm

ATHLETICS: Camille Buscomb, 5000m qualifying, 10pm; Valerie Adams and Maddison Wesche, shotput qualifying, 10pm

Suzanne McFadden, the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Sports Journalist of the Year, founded LockerRoom, dedicated to women's sport.

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