As personal statements go, Robbie Manson’s performances at the recent New Zealand Rowing Champs were concise and very much to the point.
The 30-year-old, who rowed in Wairau club colours at Lake Karapiro, won the premier single and double sculls titles, both in emphatic fashion.
In the single he came up against former double Olympic champion Mahe Drysdale, who has been vying with Robbie for the seat in the Kiwi single for the past two years, and left him trailing in his wake.
In the double he paired with Chris Harris, who he rowed with at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and prevailed comfortably.
As an opening gambit to a year where he has made a bold change, his efforts could not be faulted.
This international season Robbie has decided to forgo the single, in which he set the world’s fastest time in 2017 but was unable to medal at the following three world championships, to team up once more with Chris in the double. They have been named in the NZ elite team to contest forthcoming World Cups II and III in Europe, with Mahe selected in the single at this stage.
However, the Tokyo Olympics are everyone’s primary objective in 2020 and Robbie feels he is tracking nicely for the Games, especially after underlining his early-season form so comprehensively at Karapiro.
“It went really well. It was always the plan to do both the single and the double [at the nationals].
“On a personal level I wanted to go out there and show everyone that I am still the fastest single sculler in New Zealand,” said the man who last season qualified the single for the next Olympics.
“To trial for the double this year was my choice and I definitely feel as though I have made the right choice … it was nice to go out there and prove myself in the single one more time.
“I haven’t been beaten domestically in the single for four years now and I haven’t been beaten in a sculling race at the nationals for four years either, so I just wanted to keep those kind of records going and I guess, for me, it’s potentially the last time I will get the opportunity to race Mahe, so I just wanted to nail it really.
“The single went much better than I expected because I haven’t spent a lot of time in it over the past couple of months … and the double went really well, we were both really pleased with that.”
If their selection is confirmed, Tokyo will be the third Olympic regatta for both Robbie and Chris, who finished 11th in Rio. Robbie finished seventh in the quad at the 2012 London Games, while Chris finished 11th in the four. The duo picked up a bronze medal in the double at the world champs in 2015.
Robbie stresses that his decision to move from the single was not taken lightly, with the added enjoyment of being part of a crew boat a major factor.
“After spending three years rowing on my own it is nice and refreshing to be in a crew boat with someone else.”
And he is relishing his renewed partnership with Chris.
“We are working really well together. I feel like we are both fitter and stronger and rowing technically better than we were in 2015 and 2016.
“We are a natural combination physically – we both did two second PBs on our 2km erg back at trials in January and we did exactly the same time, to 0.1 of a second. We are very evenly-matched in terms of power.
“We also have a little bit of unfinished business, because we were a really fast crew right up until Rio … now I would say that we are faster and training at a much higher level, so that’s really exciting.”
However, looming over their international campaign is the potential disruption of scheduled events as coronavirus cases spread across the globe, with some media reports suggesting the 2020 Games could be adversely affected.
However, Robbie said recent communication from the NZ Olympic Committee had informed potential team members not to worry and said they were talking to the Tokyo organising committee and everything at this stage was going ahead as planned.
“However the World Cup events, planned for Italy and Switzerland in May, could be more at risk but we are just training as normal and basically prepared for anything. I’m sure this year will have a lot of curve balls, but we are just ready to take what’s thrown at us,” he added.