Rowing: Centre a boon for sport, university

The establishment of a national high-performance centre in Dunedin is a win-win situation for the University of Otago and Rowing New Zealand.

The deal was signed yesterday, by the vice-chancellor of the University of Otago, Professor David Skegg, and Rowing New Zealand chief executive Simon Peterson.

The centre, only the second in the country and the first in the South Island, will employ a full-time coach based at the University of Otago Rowing Club's aquatic centre for the next four years.

"We've been planning this for two years," the chief executive of the Otago University Rowing Club, Glen Sinclair, said.

"It has finally come to fruition."

An annual fund of $220,000 has been guaranteed for the next four years by a partnership between the University of Otago, benefactor David Richwhite, former club president Marcus Gray and the Callis Trust.

The plan is to have 40 rowers based at the high-performance centre and most will be university students.

But a few promising local rowers from other clubs, like Michael Nisbet (North End), will be added. The 80-year-old university rowing club opened its $1.5 million aquatic centre in 2003, four years after its old clubrooms burnt down.

"The establishment of the centre could be the difference between promising young rowers choosing to study at Otago or another university," Sinclair said. Rowing New Zealand's national high-performance centre is at Lake Karapiro.

There are also regional performance centres in Auckland, Waikato, Blenheim and Christchurch.

Rowers attached to the high performance centre will be able to access the expertise in the various university faculties, such as nutrition, physiotherapy, medicine and physical education.

A bonus for the university departments is that the rowers will be available as subjects for research projects at the university.

The partner relations officer in the vice-chancellor's office, Kathy Young, said that the rowing initiative was a test case to see if the principles could be extended to other sports.

"We hope to do this with a range of sports in the future," she said.

"Rowing will be the pace-setter."

It is hoped to have a Chinese eight visit Dunedin in late January or early February, to train at the centre and competein New Zealand.

Beijing University has the top student eight crew in China.