How does a lad from Wellington College who never medalled at the Maadi Cup become an Olympic champion - a member of the New Zealand rowing eight in Tokyo who shocked Germany and Great Britain to capture gold after battling through a repechage to make the final, lucky to be in Japan in the first place?
The story of Phillip Wilson is one of perseverance, trial, error, improvement, and some good fortune, but first let’s deal with the nicknames.
“I’ve got a few, 'Bilbo Baggins', 'Neanderthal', 'Front Row Phil' as in I'm always in the front of photos. I can take it, I’ve had it for years,” Phillip said.
He sits in the sixth seat of the New Zealand boat, the shortest and lightest individual in the engine room which contains the crews’ heaviest and most powerful rowers.
“It’s not exactly the most traditional place. We tried a dozen to 15 combinations before the games. It definitely didn’t come easily, but once we were locked in we knew this was the line-up that got us fastest down the course. It was a process of trial and error. I sat in every seat of the boat before the Olympics.”
Flashback to 2010 and Phillip Wilson is Year 9 at Wellington College. He is a natural in any sport he turns to. His father Greg Wilson, a self-employed builder and “sports nut,” recalls Phillip kicking a soccer ball as soon as he could walk, swinging a golf club aged three, and flourishing at rugby, basketball and cricket. However it's rowing that appeals most.
“I started down there in Wellington Harbour when I was 13. It wasn’t the best place to learn given the notorious wind and rain, but I pushed my way through that and worked my way up the grades. I've always enjoyed the challenge of pushing myself to the limit."
His first Maadi Cup was in 2011 and two seventh place finishes in B finals were hardly eye-catching results. However, an incident prior to the regatta suggested Phillip was made of sterner stuff. He was challenged by a senior to his first erg, a rowing machine race set to a specified time. Phil lost narrowly, reduced to sickness from exhaustion.
“It was properly two or three years before I realised I had some ability. I was top of the group at school and thought I’d try and push for some representative teams. I made a North Island team when I was 16 and was picked in the National junior squad a year later.
“Rowing is the toughest team sport out there because you’ve got to be doing everything in sync. Playing other sports helped me handle the dynamic of an eight.”
His final Maadi Cup in 2014 represented massive improvement. His best result was fourth aboard a new boat in the U18 singles sculls, but that doesn’t illustrate his total impact.
“He seemed to be the lynchpin in all the crews. He stroked the pair, four, and eight as well as racing the singles. With the help of fundraising I brought him a new boat. His tenacity and grit was so impressive, Greg Wilson recalled.
“The Wellington College rowing team was an amazing group of people. Typically, you’d start with a dozen boys and there would be two or three left by Year 13. We still had a dozen guys after five years. I drove them all over the country and we became great mates. There’s no doubt their encouragement and friendship helped Phil.”
Representing New Zealand in the men’s double at the 2014 World Junior Championships in Hamburg and medaling twice with Petone at the National Club Championships were major breakthroughs. At the club regatta he was a 17-year old in crews whose average age was 27. The oldest competitor was 37.
Meanwhile the U23 New Zealand men’s eight struck gold with back-to-back triumphs at the 2013 and 2014 World Championships. Suddenly after years in the wilderness the black boat was back.
Phillip spent two seasons with Central Rowing Performance Centre and a year at the University of Otago. He returned to the New Zealand team in 2016 as part of the U23 men’s coxed four. The crew won gold at the World Championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Phillip linked up with Tom Murray in 2018 to win the National senior pairs title. Now based at the National High Performance Centre in Cambridge he had a seat in the New Zealand eight. Stephen Jones, Brook Robertson, Alex Kennedy, Joe Wright, Finn Howard, Isaac Grainger and Caleb Shepherd from the U23 World championship winning boat were all gone.
“I’m not sure how many guys were a part of this team. We had different crews each year, interchanging positions. There were a whole lot of people involved in this journey,” Phillip said.
“We all trained over the summer trying to make our boats go faster. Trials come around and it’s a lot of stress. It’s not a nice time of the year. You put pressure on yourself to perform. It’s all part of the process.”
New Zealand’s processes weren't working. The 2018 World Championships were a let-down and the eight was almost abandoned until two-time Olympic champion Hamish Bond insisted otherwise.
“He was the one who lit the candle again. We’d kind of given up on the eight after the World Champs but he’s like, I want to do the eight in Tokyo. Were like we weren’t going to do that, but okay. We thought it was going really well. We had a couple of decent results in Europe but missed out on Olympic qualification and that was devastating.”
It was Bond’s convincing of the “higher ups” that earned a final lifeline. The last chance regatta was held in Lucerne in May 2021. A fast start caught the field napping and the Kiwis resisted a late surge by Romania.
A fast beginning was typically unusual for New Zealand. In Tokyo a sluggish first heat saw New Zealand consigned to the repechage.
“Repechage was a good thing for us because we didn’t put out our best result in the heat. We had to go away for four days and make sure we were executing our race plan and rhythm. We proved in the repechage we were pretty quick."
The Olympic final was held on July 30 and the only certainty was it would be quicker than normal.
“Traditionally we race on freshwater. Tokyo Bay is salt water. It’s really hot. The temperature was properly 27 degrees which means fast conditions. There was a cross tailwind heading down the course too which meant we weren’t battling a head wind.
“We went through the first 500 in third. We knew we weren't the fastest crew and the first 500 was almost damage control, trying to get our rhythm. From there we started to move up to the Germans. Through the 1000 it was a pretty tight race. You kind of have a sense of where you are, but you don’t fully know.
“I knew we were in front at 250. I saw the finish line go underneath us like the line you follow on TV. They have a results board on one side and it said NZL first. It’s pure elation. You put everything into the race. You're spent afterwards but you get that adrenaline buzz because of the moment.``
Greg was watching with the parents of the crew at the Cloud in Auckland. Only Covid prevented him from being there in person. The decision for all the parents to assemble together was made via a conference call two months before the Games.
“New Zealand is always the most well supported team internationally. The parents all share a special bond and we all decided we’d pretend we were in Tokyo. I still haven’t come off the high of Phillip winning. It’s a feeling hard to describe. Eight years ago Phil wrote down a goal he wanted to be an Olympic champion. He’s done it and I’m so proud of him,” Greg said.
New Zealand last won Olympic gold in the eight in 1972. It was the first time ‘God defend New Zealand' had been played.”
“Their win has always been mythical in the rowing community. They’ve been looked up to and we dreamed of repeating them," Phillip said.
"We didn’t have much correspondence with them up until the games but after we won we got a message from one of them acknowledging all of them. It arrived by text to one of the coaches. It was passed down the bus on the way home. We were pretty thankful for the message. It said, ‘Congrats you are now carrying the mantle.’"
Greg recalled five years earlier when Phillip won his World U23 title some of his old schoolmates literally needed carrying.
“I got a call on WhatsApp from a number I didn’t recognise. I answered and there was all this noise in the background. The call was from New Zealand and it must have been 3 o'clock in the morning. It was his mate Daniel Petrovich and he slurred, ‘I love you, Henry’s crying.”’
Rowing Eight Maadi Cup Highlights
Tom MacKintosh (Lindisfarne College) - Won a silver medal in the U16 double sculls in 2013 and a bronze in the U17 single sculls in 2014.
Tom Murray (Marlborough Boys’ College) - Won four titles in a double and quad boat between 2010 and 2012.
Hamish Bond (Otago Boys’ High School) - Head Prefect in his final year Bond won a full set of medals in his last regatta in 2003. His 69 consecutive victories with Eric Murray for New Zealand is a world record.
Michael Brake (Westlake Boys’ High School) - Westlake had a serious tilt at the Maadi Cup itself which is the boys U18 coxed eight. They were third in 2011 and 2012.
Daniel Williamson (King’s College) - Moved from Howick College to King’s and in his last two years of high school earned four gold and two bronze medals. He was selected to compete in the Junior men’s coxless four at the 2017 World Junior Championships in Trakai, Lithuania. Daniel teamed up with Thomas Russel, Matt MacDonald and Ben Taylor to earn a silver medal.
Shaun Kirkham (Hamilton Boys’ High School) - Enjoyed a stellar career twice winning the Maadi Cup and Springbok Shield. Shaun followed the Rowing New Zealand pathway through the Rowing Performance Centre system with Waikato.
Sam Bosworth (Christ’s College) - Was a member of the 2012 crew which won the Maadi Cup. Only Whanganui Collegiate School with 17 titles have won the Maadi Cup more often than Christ’s.
Wellington College Olympic History
Wellington College (Phillip Wilson's former school) has produced 18 Olympians and enjoyed semi-regular medal success. Arthur Halligan (1901-1902) was a New Zealander who competed for Great Britain at the 1908 London Olympics in the 110 metre hurdles. He finished second in his heat but only the winners advanced to the semi-finals. He would become national champion in the same event in 1915.
Harry Wilson (1911-1912) was flag-bearer at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics. He competed in the 110-metre hurdles and was fourth in the final, 0.5 seconds away from a bronze medal. Wilson won nine national titles.
Boxer Ted Morgan (1921-1922) was Wellington’s first gold medalist. He won the welterweight class at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. Despite competing throughout the tournament with a dislocated knuckle he beat Raúl Landini from Argentina in the final. The plummer was the 1925 and 1927 National Lightweight champion and won 26 of 28 amatuer fights.
Wellington’s next gold medalist was Gregory Dayman (1961–1965). He was a member of the 1976 hockey team who beat Australia in Montreal. He later became a successful architect in Auckland.
Dave MacCalman (1975) in javelin and Tim Prendergast (1996) middle distance running were Paralympic champions.
George Cooke (1918-1921) was the first rower from Wellington College to attend the Olympics. He competed in the four who missed out on the finals in Los Angeles in 1932. Robert Hellstrom (1991-1993) was a member of the coxed four crew in Sydney 2000 while George Bridgewater (1996-2000) and Peter Taylor (1997-2001) proved to be dynamic international competitors with each winning bronze medals at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics respectively.
*Two members of the 1972 rowing eight competed in the Hutt Valley. Ross Collinge was a Petone club member and Dick Joyce was from the Hutt Valley club.
Above: Shakira Mirfin, second from right, of Southland Girls' High School on the podium in Tokyo after New Zealand won the women's quadruple sculls at the world junior rowing championships. PHOTO: Rowing NZ.
Shakira Mirfin is back home in Invercargill and taking a well-earned break from the water, after a hard winter's training in Cambridge that was recently capped off by winning gold with the women’s quadruple skulls crew at the Junior World Championships in Japan.
Shakira and her crew of scullers came together at the end of the last rowing season to form the winning crew that beat crews representing Germany and Romania into second and third in the A final at the Junior World Championships in Tokyo.
“We had a heat, semi-final and final and won all three and it great to part of,” said Shakira who was rowing for New Zealand overseas for the first time.
Shakira’s teammates were Eva Hofmans (Bayfield High School), Rebecca Leigh (St Peter's School, Cambridge) and Phoebe Trolove (Craighead Diocesan School).
They were coached by Hannah Starnes, from the Nelson Rowing Club.
“I watched the race back afterwards and it was a pretty cool race, “ added Shakira who was the three-seat, behind stroke Rebecca Leigh.
The crew comprised the top four place getters in the U18 Single Skulls race at this year’s Maadi Cup, with winner Phoebe, Eva, Rebecca and Shakira finishing first to fourth in that order.
Shakira is year 12 and also won the U17 Single Skulls, after winning the U16 race previous year. The other three are year 13, although Rebecca is a young year 13 and the same age as Shakira.
Maadi Cup was only part of the team’s selection though. “We had a week-long trial and there were other scullers trialing as well so that was more of a coincidence that all four of us made it.”
The intensity and commitment that is the life of an elite rower continued throughout the winter as the crews assembled in Cambridge to live and train. Some 14 out of town Junior World Championship rowers attended school at St Peter’s School by day and did their own school’s work by proxy in the school’s library.
Tokyo was hot, so was it a shock going from the Karapiro winter to a hot and humid summer in Japan?
“We knew we had to adapt so we did some heat training in Cambridge. We heated the whole room up to 30 degrees and wore jackets.”
Back home, Shakira has a month off rowing. But you can’t keep her idle.
“I am training for the Peak to Peak race at the end of the month.”
The Peak to Peak is the multisport race out of Queenstown from the Remarkables to Coronet Peak.
“I am part of a team with some friends and rowers and I am doing kayaking and the downhill biking so that should be fun.”
The biking is a sport she is right at home with.
In a former sporting life, she won an Oceania title and two national titles and competed in world championships as a BMX racer.
She is looking forward to the rowing season soon after the multisport challenge, which will culminate next year with the Maadi Cup in Twizel.
She is also a second year Academy Southland member.
The 2019 World Rowing Junior Championships has attracted 553 rowers from 50 nations.
As well as Shakira’s quad crew, three of New Zealand’s four crews made A Finals and the fourth won their B final.
New Zealand’s Charlotte Darry (St Margaret's College), Alison Mills (St. Paul's Collegiate), Lucy Burrell (Baradene College) and Sally Wylaars (Avonside Girls' High School) finished fifth in the Women’s Four A Final.
The Men’s Quad of Ben Mason (Otago Boys’ High School), Seth Hope (Cambridge RC, Waikato RPC), Jason Nel (St Peter's School Cambridge) and William Thompson (Waikato Rowing Club, Waikato RPC) finished sixth in the A final.
The Men’s Double of Kobe Miller (Blenheim Rowing Club, Central RPC) and Scott Shackleton (Christchurch Boys' High School) won the B Final and finished seventh overall.
At the conclusion of the 2019 World Rowing Junior Championships, three of New Zealand’s four crews made A Finals, with the women’s quad taking gold.
Women’s Quad (JW4x) - A Final - Gold
After placing first in their women’s quad heat and A/B semi-final, Eva Hofmans (Bayfield High School), Rebecca Leigh (St Peter's School, Cambridge), Shakira Mirfin (Southland Girls' High School) and Phoebe Trolove (Craighead Diocesan School) were in the lead of the A Final from 1000m and comfortably ahead of Germany in second place. With Germany and Romania in third unable to close the gap, the New Zealand crew crossed the line first and took gold in at time of 06:54.32, 2.39 seconds ahead of Germany, who took silver. Romania took bronze.
Hofmans, Leigh, Mirfin and Trolove are coached by Hannah Starnes.
Women’s Four (JW4-) - A Final
New Zealand’s Charlotte Darry (St Margaret's College), Alison Mills (St. Paul's Collegiate), Lucy Burrell (Baradene College) and Sally Wylaars (Avonside Girls' High School) progressed straight to the A Final after placing second in their heat earlier this week. Coached by Nick Barton, the crew made a strong start in the A final today and held second position by the first 500m, but were unable to maintain the speed of China, Italy and Germany who took gold, silver and bronze respectively.
Darry, Mills, Burrell and Wylaars placed fifth in a time of 07:14.50.
Men’s Quad (JM4x) - A Final
Coached by Duncan By de Ley, the New Zealand men’s quad of Ben Mason (Otago Boys’ High School), Seth Hope (Cambridge RC, Waikato RPC), Jason Nel (St Peter's School Cambridge) and William Thompson (Waikato Rowing Club, Waikato RPC) placed first in their heat and second in their A/B semi-final earlier this week.
In today’s A Final, the New Zealand crew were up against Germany and Italy, both of whom had strong performances throughout heats and A/B semi-finals. Unable to maintain the European’s speed, Mason, Hope, Nel and Thompson placed sixth in a time of 06:18.91. Germany took gold, Italy took silver and Russia took bronze.
Men’s Double (JM2x) - B Final
Also coached by Duncan By de Ley, Kobe Miller (Blenheim Rowing Club, Central RPC) and Scott Shackleton (Christchurch Boys' High School) won the B Final of the men’s double in a time of 06:54.21, ahead of the Netherlands in second and Hungary in third.
Miller and Shackleton rank 7th overall.
Christchurch Boys’ High School are Maadi Cup champions for the first time and their plan for the U18 coxed eight was simple, explains crew member Cameron Henderson.
“The plan for the prestigious final race was to get ahead of the other crews from the outset. We managed to do this in the four and the quad. We felt over the last 1900m we were the fastest crew so if we were first off the start, we had a good shot,” he said.
Of course in the heat of battle the plan didn’t quite materialise as intended with reigning champions Christ’s College shooting ahead.
“The start didn’t go according to plan, but at least we were within striking distance and managed to move through College with about 500 meters to go. From there I can’t say I remember much,” Henderson reflects.
It’s no fluke Christchurch was in a position to usurp Christ’s as the top rowing school in the country. Henderson provides an insight into the arduous training.
“We’ve been training since the end of September, but our final crew was never really cemented until a few weeks out from Maadi. We were really lucky this year to have a big group of U18’s along with some younger boys pushing for the top eight.”
“Our training over a week would generally involve eight sessions. Most of the sessions were on water of which three would be at maximum intensity.”
Henderson is an intense sportsman. He’s also a No.8 forward for the First XV who last year won the UC Championship and reached the National Top Four finals. Henderson is unsure as to his preference at this stage, but shares a theory on the difference between rugby and rowing.
“I think the main difference between rugby and rowing is that in rowing we spend the entire season training to perform in one big race at the end. In rugby you have to reset the focus weekly. Rowing training involves a lot more volume, but with rugby there are more breaks because of the explosive nature of the sport.”
Christchurch was in explosive form throughout the whole meeting winning the most gold medals of any school with eight. The boy’s U17 single sculls was the first race of the day and Scott Shackleton claimed the first of his personal haul of four titles in that decider.
Made from segments of South African wood, the Springbok Shield is awarded to the winners of the boy’s U18 coxed four and replicates a shield in South Africa called the Kiwi Shield. Won in 2018 by Hamilton Boys’ High School, the trophy has been won eight times by Tauranga Boys’ College, six times by Christ’s College and four times by Westlake Boys’ High School.
This year’s final was taken out by Christchurch Boys’ High School ahead of Westlake Boys’ High School and Christ’s College.
Henderson, Shackleton, Timmy Heritage, Tom Fraser, Cameron Long, Ethan Alderlieste, Angus Templeton, James Glover and Ben Brown were the Maddi Cup winning eight.
Each of the eight rowers had taped their oars with 'rainbow' tape, and had successfully messaged all seven other crews competing in the final to do likewise, in a statement against homophobic bullying that Heritage had endured earlier this season. The gesture made nationwide headlines.
Christchurch Boys' High School Maadi Cup success 2019:
Boys u17 single sculls - Scott Shackleton
Boys u18 coxless pair - James Glover and Tom Fraser
Boys u17 coxed eight - Scott Shackleton, Liam Behrnes, Will Bentley, Henry Woelders, Oli Taylor, Angus Lill, Jose de Sousa, Liam Bunting, Tim Heritage
Boys u18 coxed quad - Angus Templeton, Cameron Long, Ben Brown, Sam Wield, Tim Heritage
Boys u17 double sculls - Scott Shackleton and Liam Behrnes
Boys u18 coxed four - James Glover, Tom Fraser, Cameron Henderson, Ethan Alderlieste,
Boys u17 coxed quad - Liam Behrnes, Sam Wield, Angus Lill, Liam Bunting, Caleb Fitzsimmons
Boys u18 coxed eight - Scott Shackleton, Tom Fraser, Cameron Long, Ethan Alderlieste, Cameron Henderson, Angus Templeton, James Glover, Ben Brown, Tim Heritage
Boys u17 single sculls - Sam Wield
Boys u16 coxed eight - Charlie Baker, Ben Zino, Will Bentley, George Pirie, Archie Pascoe, Ed Lopas, Will Lindsay, Harry Medlicott, Tim Heritage
St Peter’s School rowers returned to the classroom on Monday following a successful Maadi Cup NZSS Rowing Championships regatta, held at nearby Lake Karapiro last week.
The 59-strong St Peter’s team made 18 A finals, 10 B Finals and one C Final – winning three gold, three silver and four bronze medals and coming third overall and winning the Presidents Trophy for the top sculling school in New Zealand.
St Peter’s was the only school to have both a Girl's Eight and Boy's Eight in the U18 finals at the end of the regatta, the Girls winning bronze and the Boys making the A final for the first time.
St Peter’s won the Presidents Scull for overall top sculling school for the ninth time in the past 10 years. There were 129 schools at the regatta and 52 of them won medals.
This was led by Jason Nel, who dominated the field in the U18 Boy's Single to win his second single sculling title after winning the U16 Boys Single in 2017.
He then partnered up with Patrick Griffin to win silver in the U18 Boy's Double.
Beckie Leigh led the way for the girls, winning four medals from her four races to top off a very successful school rowing career. She won gold in the U18 Double with Terri Wyatt, who is only in her second year of rowing. Then she picked up bronze in the U18 Girls Single, Quad, and Eight.
The U16 Girls Quad won their third gold medal. Leading from start to finish Holly Williams, Atlanta Bruce, Emma Stead, Maddie Brown and coxswain Teagan Carvell picked up their second medal of the regatta, after also winning silver in the U16 Eight on Friday.
Q and A with Jason Nel
What were your expectations for the week?
This Maadi Cup was my fifth and final one so I didn't want to have any regrets at the end of the week. The only thing I expected from myself and crew was that we gave it our all in every race. My aim was to make the A final in all four of my boats and then race it for the medals. This was achieved and highlighted by the St Peter's u18 eight making the A final for the first time in school history.
How were you feeling in the lead up to the U18 Single Sculls final?
I would be lying if I didn't say very nervous. The final was filled with many great scullers and I knew it was going to be a painful race no matter what. It was also the first time I was racing Ben Mason this season, the South Island Champion, so I was unsure of what his pace would be. However, my coach Megan Glenn and St Peter’s rowing director Janey Wackrow reassured me that I had done the work during the season and instead to just enjoy the race and have fun. This made me relax a little bit and just focus on my own race. During the season I've also been lucky enough to warm up with Beckie Leigh who races the U18 girls single for St Peter’s and who achieved a bronze in the singles race at Maadi. She's always in a friendly and buzzing mood, which definitely lightens the room.
How did the final race pan out?
With strong opposition, I knew that I had to get out fast from the start so I could control the race. I managed to do this but, Ben was still sitting on the stern of my boat. This gave me the motivation to push away further. I maintained the lead and knew it was essential as Eric Gruythusen from Hauraki Plains and Tom Hall from Kings College had a sprint that they were well known for. The pair didn't disappoint, coming through flying in the last 250 metres, taking out silver and bronze. Looking back I'm happy with how I executed my race.
How did you feel after you realised you had won?
One word, satisfaction. This is because all the hard work had just paid off in a few moments. This wasn't just the long hours that I had put it in. The reason behind my achievement was the support and commitment from my family, coaches, school and friends. Without them, I wouldn't be the person I am today and the feeling of them being proud was greater than the victory itself.
St Peter’s School Maadi Cup results 2019 at a glance:
Christchurch Boys HS 42
Hamilton Boys HS 37
St Peter’s School 28
St Peter’s School 24
Christchurch Boys HS 21
Dunstan HS 21
U18 Boys 1X Jason Nel
U18 Girls 2X Beckie Leigh, Terri Wyatt
U16 Girls 4X+ Holly Williams, Atlanta Bruce, Maddie Brown, Emma Stead – Teagan Carvell (coxswain)
U18 Boys 2X Jason Nel, Patrick Griffin
U16 Girls 8+ Millie Baker, Holly Williams, Atlanta Bruce, Emma Stead, Shivon Hanham, Emma Butcher, Maddie Brown, Caitlin Huxtable – Teagan Carvell (coxswain)
U15 Girls 8X+ Millie Baker, Natasha Dickie, Charlotte Pamment, Alyssa Sherry-Middlemiss, Lily Cawood, Jorja Metcalfe, Marie Oaks, Aimee Clink – Amelia McCarroll (coxswain)
U18 Girls 1X Beckie Leigh
U18 Girls 4X+ Beckie Leigh, Margaret Wise, Clare Milne, Amelia Barrell – Brooke Houston (coxswain)
U18 Girls 8+ Amelia Barrell, Holly Williams, Beckie Leigh, Clare Milne, Atlanta Bruce, Terri Wyatt, Ella Thomson, Madi Fuller – Teagan Carvell (coxswain)
U15 Boys 4X+ Connor Davison, Jack Scragg, Toby Robinson, George Muir – Esme MacGillivray (coxswain)
The Maadi Cup rowing regatta is one of the leading events on the sporting calendar and a pinnacle for many of New Zealand’s secondary school athletes.
Each year over 2,000 rowers from some 120 schools and thousands more support staff and spectators take part. This year’s Maadi Cup is at Lake Karapiro from 25-30 March (reserve day 31 March).
Timaru’s Craighead Diocesan School consistently features in finals and regularly picks ups medals in the girls regatta at Maadi Cups.
At this past weekend’s South Island Secondary School Championships Craighead Diocesan School crews won eight medals. Three of them were golds, as below:
Head Coach Dean Milne has coached rowing for 46 years and spent two decades as Craighead Diocesan’s mentor and volunteer coach. This year will be his 21st and last with the squad.
In that time, Milne has seen numerous Craighead Diocesan rowers medal, many of them winning gold, and subsequently go on to bigger things. Former student Emma Dyke is currently in the New Zealand Women’s Eight squad.
Milne says the highlights that stand out over the past two decades are the unexpected successes.
“The performances that stick in my mind over the years are the crews that I never expected to win medals. They are the highlights to me. When I see a crew that I put on the water and I say, hey guys let’s just go out and enjoy it, and then they come through and medal that’s really satisfying.”
Just this past weekend there was one such instance.
“The pair is one of the hardest boats in rowing because it takes so much timing and you have got to be really in touch with your partner and it is all about being together. So my theory on rowing in pairs is you must spend a lot of time together putting in the legwork.”
“This past weekend I had two U17 girls at a bit of a loose end so I said to them, well you go out in the U18 pair and have a crack at racing it and get some experience for next year in it. They had only been out as a pair in a boat twice. They went out there and won it.”
“It was just so exciting to see that – they went out with no expectations. To do that in the SISS Championships is prestigious, the crews they beat will be right up there in rowing into the future. I was just hoping that they didn’t fall out!”
Teamwork is a strong theme in Craighead Diocesan School’s rowing.
“I have always believed that the strength of Craighead rowing is that we are a squad and everyone is equal.
“Everyone rows together, the senior girls and the novice girls all work together. The leading rowers don’t get any special treatment.
“We currently have rowers going well but the only reason why they are going well is because they have got some good girls around them.”
Their current success is all the better because right now, Craighead Diocesan and the other Timaru schools can hardly train on their home water.
“We have had no water to train on since coming back to school for Term one. Our creek [Saltwater Creek] has basically dried up on us.”
Even in peak condition Saltwater Creek in Timaru is only wide enough for two boats side by side. So it means a lot of travelling for training as well as competition for the local rowers.
The Maadi Cup regatta is a fortnight away. What is the Craighead Diocesan squad doing this coming weekend?
“This weekend is what we call our overload weekend. We go back up to Lake Ruataniwha and they will be pushed hard this weekend!”
Milne says that lack of fitness is never an issue for Craighead rowers when Maadi Cup week rolls around, but that isn’t everything.
“I think physical training is one thing, but that is the mental side of things that can be key at the Maadi Cup.”
“Over the years I have taken crews to the Maadi that based on their SISS results were odds-on favourites to take out titles. But the whole atmosphere and enormity of it got to them.
“Crews fade at Maadi, simply because it is so big and so much is made of it. This is all they talk about from September, it is all about Maadi. Then they finally hit Maadi and there are 2,500 of their peers there and the spotlight gets turned on.
“With the SISS Championships if they fail there then they get another chance to row better at Maadi. They get to Maadi and that is it for the year, and for the senior students that’s it for their school careers.”
On the water, Milne has seen the event evolve over the past two decades.
“The times that the U15 crews are putting in now are probably about equal to what the U18 girls were doing 21 years ago.”
“That is why New Zealand rowing is still top of the pile and a high world standard. I have had parents over the years say to me do we need to train this hard? My response is no we don’t but if we don’t we can’t expect to be where we want to be – when you have got world class rowers out there you have got to train at a world class level to stay with them.”
Craighead Diocesan has a senior roll of 280 students including a boarding school, reflected in the approximate two thirds-one third ratio to boarders and day students in its rowing squads. This year’s squad is some 27-strong.
The rowers that featured in the SISS Championships will be the ones to watch at Maadi Cup. They won’t be entering an U18 Eight, although they have in the past.
For very school, not least Craighead Diocesan, the logistics of attending Maadi Cup are significant.
Support is necessary for success. “I have always maintained over my years of coaching that if I have got a good parent group backing me, then I can do pretty much everything on the water. If I don’t have that is makes it really hard. I have been blessed over the years to have had incredible parent backing.”
“As the coach, anything that goes on in the water is my domain. Anything that goes on off the water is the parents domain. At the start of the season I give them a calendar and they take it away and sort out all the transport, accommodation, eating and logistics themselves sorted. It is like an army movement – we have got a mother that handles all the food, a mother that handles all the travel and so on!”
Plus support coaching staff.
“Over the years, a number of old girls have come back to help out coaching. This year am I very fortunate, with former student Emily Goodhew as the official assistant coach, and others like former student Vicky Taggart [son and former high performance athlete] Adam Milne, and Hannah Duncum who has just moved to Timaru.”
As for coach Milne and his stepping down after this year’s Maadi Cup as Craighead Diocesan’s Head Coach, he has the last word: “I have been coaching for 46 years and I have never had a summer off, so I think I will see what it is like to actually have a summer at home first!”
The 2019 Aon Maadi Cup regatta will be held at Lake Karapiro from 25-30 March (reserve day 31 March).
2,166 athletes from a record 131 schools and around 10,000 people will watch the finals from the bank.
This past weekend the North Island and South Island Secondary Schools championships were held. They are the last major warm up before New Zealand school sport's biggest event in terms of participation numbers.
North Island Championships
There were 1891 students from 105 schools entered in 4548 seats in 1308 crews.
There were 50 A titles at stake and St Peter’s School, Cambridge won the Derbyshire Shield for Top overall School. St Peter’s won eight titles, edging Hamilton Boys’ High School by one.
Despite some challenging weather conditions on Friday, the St Peter's team raced well to make 29 A Finals, 9 B Finals, and 4 C Finals. Nearly all 77 teams made it through to a final. Overall St Peter's came home with 8 golds, 6 silvers, and 3 bronze medals, along with the Derbyshire Shield (61 points). Hamilton Boys' High School finished 2nd with 52 points and Westlake Boys' High School in third on 22 points.
Some highlights for St Peter's were the U18 Girls winning all three sculling events, with Beckie Leigh winning the Single, Beckie and Terri Wyatt winning the Double and Beckie, Margaret Wise, Clare Milne, Amelia Barrell and coxswain Brooke Houston winning the Quad. The Senior Girls also picked up a silver in the U18 and U17 Eights, U17 Quad and a second medal in the U18 Double with a bronze.
The U18 Boys also won the Single (Jason Nel) and Quad (Patrick Griffin, Jacques Balsom, Jason Nel, Harry Lynch, and coxswain Brooke Houston) and picked up bronze in the Double. Having both our U18 and U15 Boys Eights make the A Finals was a first for the school and great achievement.
There were 24 different winners, however Hamilton schools were very dominant, with St Paul’s Collegiate, St John’s Hamilton and Waikato Diocesan also claiming honours which meant Hamilton schools accounted for just under half of all the medals won. With Maadi Cup on their ‘doorstep’ this year at Lake Karapiro they will be the schools to beat.
Hamilton Boys’ High School defeated Auckland Grammar School by four seconds in the U18 coxed eight with Westlake Boys’ a distant third. Hamilton was second to Christ’s College at Maadi last year.
Waikato Diocesan School for Girls won the U18 girls coxed eight by four seconds over St Peter’s School, Cambridge. This was a switch of positions from their Maddi Cup result last year.
Other highlights included Evan Williams’ five second victory in the U17 single sculls. The Takapuna Grammar School student pulled clear towards the finish.
Holly Chaafe (Mount Albert Grammar School) pipped Parekura Kellow (Wentworth College) in a thrilling girls equivalent while Auckland Grammar School beat Hamilton Boys’ in the U17 coxed eight.
North Island Secondary School Championships full results: http://rowit.nz/niss2019/results
South Island Championships
Christchurch Boys’ High School was the dominant player in the Points Bell winning the title by a smashing 27 points over Rangi Ruru Girls’ School with St Andrew’s College in third.
There were 39 schools that earned a point in the overall standings, with Christchurch BHS winning eight events.
Scott Shackleton was perhaps the star of the regatta. He won a personal haul of four gold medals in the U17 single sculls, U17 coxed four and eight and the U18 coxed eight.
Christchurch BHS smashed defending Maddi Cup champions Christ’s College by 15 seconds in the U18 coxed eight, with St Bede’s a further four seconds adrift.
St Margaret’s College foiled a late charge by Rangi Ruru Girls’ School in the girls coxed eight, but enjoyed a great meeting with four gold medals and a numbers of podium placings.
Ben Mason from Otago Boys’ High School is another name to watch. Mason beat teammate Thomas Ryan by a second in the U18 single sculls and then the pair teamed up to win the double sculls. Mason also tasted success in the U18 coxed quad sculls.
There were 1057 competitiors at the SISS regatta on Lake Ruataniwha in 50 events.
South Island Secondary School Championships full results: http://rowit.nz/siss2019/results
Read our story about Craighead Diocesan School's rowing squad and interview with long-serving head coach Dean Milne HERE
Last year Mollie Nicol and Mila van der Wilt teamed up to win a goal medal in the Under-15 double sculls at the Maadi Cup. It was the first time Queen Margaret College (QMC) had achieved a first placing at the regatta.
Ironically the ground-breaking pair were initially rivals.
“The first time I met Mila was in Year 9,” Nicol recalled.
“We raced each other in the 200-meters on athletics day and I beat her by a nose.”
Both girls were keen on rowing and attended a novice summer camp.
In initial competition the girls were partnered with other rowers, but absences led to Nicol and van der Wilt combining. They developed an instant chemistry. Their very first outing together was encouraging.
“It was in our novice season after our first summer camp, KRII 2017. We finished fourth in the girls under-18 novice double sculls A final, meaning that we just had just missed out on a medal.” Nicol reflected.
The girls haven’t changed their roles in the boat since their debut.
“I’m seated in the stroke position,” Van der Wilt said.
“In this role I need to set the stroke rate, be the portable cox and the co-driver of the boat. I will call certain things, such as power strokes,”
“I’m in bow seat behind Mila,” Nicol explained.
“I follow her stroke rating and make sure were staying on course. I also say where we are in races so Mila knows when to call power strokes.”
The clarity of approach helped the girls win a Maadi Cup title last year. It was obvious QMC were favourites from the outset.
“Maadi was really big and exciting thing for us,” Nicol said.
“We arrived a week before the race and when we checked the times after the heats we were about ten seconds in front of the competition which put a lot of pressure on his heading into the finals.”
The girls decided to embrace the pressure by throwing down the gauntlet and front-running. South Island champions Dunstan High School and Waikato’s St Peter’s School, Cambridge couldn’t keep up.
“We decided to push from the start and got a good lead. There is some risk doing that, but we were confident and it was really exciting to win,” van der Wilt said.
The pair were nominated for the College Sport Wellington team of the year and have their sights set on a similar accolade in 2019.
A fortnight ago the girls won the Under-16 double sculls at the McLachlan Shield. The margin of victory in the Wellington championships was comfortable, despite a change in tactics.
“McLachlan was really good. We tried something different, lowering our rating and pushing harder. We found our speed increased which was great,” Nicol enthused.
The girls train ten times a week, morning and afternoon with a rare afternoon off on a Wednesday.
The North Island Secondary Schools Championships on Lake Karapiro are held between March 8 and 10, and then the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championship regatta (the Maadi Cup) is at the same venue from March 25 to 31.
There aren’t too many more diverse sports than BMX racing and rowing.
Both involve hours of commitment, strong motivation and the will to win, but the similarities end there.
Shakira Mirfin has been on the winner’s podium several times over the past few years in both sports.
The year 11 Southland Girls’ High School student is a former national champion and international BMX rider and now a national champion Maadi Cup Single Sculls rower.
At the Aon Maadi Cup regatta in March, Shakira won gold in the U16 Single Sculls and was second in the U17 Single Sculls as well as finishing fourth in the U16 Double Sculls with school teammate Anna Rikiti.
She powered to victory in the U16 Single Sculls, beating second placed Holly Chaafe of Mount Albert Grammar School by over eight seconds, with Alice Fahey of Wellington Girls’ College coming in third.
Prior to Maadi, she had also won the Single Sculls at the SISS Championships. At that point she was hoping to do well at Maadi but not getting ahead of herself. “I didn’t know what to expect, I was just ready for whatever was going to happen. I didn’t know the North Island competition so I just concentrated on doing my best.”
Following Maadi, she also won the Single Sculls and the Quad for the South team in the North v South regatta on Lake Karapiro.
This all followed up her second placed finish in the U16 Single Sculls and third in the over 15 Double Sculls in her first Maadi Cup last year. In the 2017 Single Sculls final she cleared the field with Ashburton College’s Mollie Gibson with 750 metres to go and pushed the Ashburton sculler right to the finish line. The two rowers finished first and second at this year’s U17 Single Sculls final.
Two years ago - at about the same time in March - she was at the BMX nationals where she won the U14 title in Christchurch.
She also represented New Zealand in Auckland and Sydney in series against Australia and then in Belgium in July 2015 at the BMX World Championships where she finished sixth in the semi-finals.
She got into BMX racing through family, with her uncle running a track in Invercargill and her cousins and brother also into the sport.
Rowing has taken over now. “I do a little bit of road biking, but I don’t really do any BMX anymore,” she says. ”Now I just row fulltime and that is my main sport, except for some social football when I can.”
She followed in the wake of her family members in starting rowing.
“My sister and brother both rowed, so I was watching them and decided to try it as well.”
Her older brother and sister are both former medallists at the club rowing and university rowing nationals respectively.
The days are getting shorter and colder now, but off-season training isn’t just confined to indoors. “We go for long rows on the water once a week on Sundays to keep the endurance up.”
Shakira has also recently been selected in the Southland Sports Academy as a foundation member.
The Academy Southland athlete programme includes a foundation level in the first year and a focus on leadership in the second. Athletes are given a solid grounding in mental skills, athlete life, nutrition, and strength and conditioning in order to prepare them for a high performance environment.
This programme has seen many local athletes going on to compete in Commonwealth and Olympic Games – with two SGHS old girls recently returning with medals from the Commonwealth Games in cycling (Emma Cumming) and rugby sevens (Alena Saili).
“It’s good to be part of this, everyone is very experienced and I am already getting a lot from it,” says Shakira.
Unsurprisingly, Shakira lists PE as her favourite subject at school.
Southland Girls’ High School Maadi Cup success
In winning the U16 Single Sculls this year, Shakira became the second SGHS rower since as far back as 2004 to win a Maadi Cup sculling gold, after Michaela Townshend won the U18 Single Sculls in 2015.
A list of A final SGHS medallists at the Maadi Cup since 2010 is below (no medallists between 2005-10):
1st U16 Single Sculls: Shakira Mirfin
2nd U17 Single Sculls: Shakira Mirfin
[Plus] 4th U16 Double Sculls Shakira Mirfin Anna Rikiti
2nd U16 Single Sculls: Shakira Mirfin
3rd U15 Double Sculls: Shakira Mirfin Anna Rikiti
U17 Single Sculls: 2nd Moira Macdonald (No relation to Olivia MacDonald below)
U18 Single Sculls: 1st Michaela Townshend
1st U17 Coxed Quad Sculls: Michaela Townshend, Kerri-Anne Sinclair, Georgia Smith, Rhianna Maxwell cox Reeney Souness
3rd U16 Coxed Quad Sculls: Maiah Hegarty, Kerri-Anne Sinclair, Georgia Smith, Rhianna Maxwell cox Reeney Souness
2nd U17 Double Sculls: Michaela Townshend, Kerri-Anne Sinclair
3rd U18 Coxed Quad Sculls: Oliva MacDonald, Georgia Yaxley, Katie Moffatt, Annabel Ronald, cox Eden Cross
3rd U16 Double Sculls: Kerri-Anne Sinclair Michaela Townshend
2nd U17 Coxed Quad Sculls: Jessica Hayes, Olivia MacDonald, Amy Jenkins, Annabel Ronald,cox Charlotte Bell
1st U18 Coxed Quad Sculls: Jessica Hayes, Olivia MacDonald, Morgan Shepherd, Annabel Ronald, cox Penny Barnsdale
3rd U18 Double Sculls: Morgan Shepherd Jessica Hayes
1st U16 Doubles Sculls: Morgan Shepherd Jessica Hayes
This is a great opportunity for NZ's top young rowers!
Briana Perry, St Peter's School, Cambridge
Brooke Kilmister, St Peter's School, Cambridge
Grace Watson, St Paul's Collegiate School
Holly Mills, Waikato Diocesan School for Girls
Isabella Carter, Rangi Ruru Girls’ School
Jamie Harris, Wanganui Collegiate School
Kate Littlejohn, St Paul’s Collegiate School
Kathryn Glen, Villa Maria College
Kayla Baker, Nelson Rowing Club
Mahalia Shand, Nelson College for Girls
Megan Bol, Baradene College
Mollie Gibson, Ashburton Rowing Club
Niamh McHugh, West End Rowing Club/Auckland RPC
Olivia Clark, Onslow College
Phoebe Trolove, Craighead Diocesan School
Poppy Newall, Petone Rowing Club
Rebecca Leigh, St Peter's School, Cambridge
Sophia Meldrum, Baradene College
Sophie Egnot-Johnson, Westlake Girls’ High School
Stella Clayton-Greene, Hauraki Plains/Waikato RPC
Veronica Wall, Ashburton Rowing Club
Alex Todhunter, Christ’s College
Angus Shotter, Westlake Boys’ High School
Blake Bradshaw, Westlake Boys' High School
Campbell Crouch, Hamilton Boys’ High school
Elliott Jenkins, Hamilton Boys’ High School
Fergus Ritchie, Lindisfarne College
Flynn Watson, Hamilton Boys’ High School
Harry Church, Saint Kentigern College
Jack Chapman, Christchurch Boys’ High School
Jack Gibbs, Roncalli College
James Hall, Auckland Rowing Club/Auckland RPC
Jamie Batchelor, Christ’s College
Jonte Wright , Wanganui Collegiate School
Manawa Mclaughlin, Clifton Rowing Club/Central RPC
Matthew White, Christchurch Boys’ High School
Max Goodwin, Christ's College
Ryan Campbell, Hamilton Boys’ High School
Sam Cummins, King's College
Thomas Woelders, Christchurch Boys’ High School
Will Gilbert, Christchurch Boys’ High School
Will Thompson, Hamilton Boys’ High School
Zackary Rumble, Canterbury Rowing Club/Southern RPC
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