'A dream come true': Twigg dedicates gold to team, wife

New Zealand's Emma Twigg was rewarded for her perseverance with a gold medal after getting fourth...
New Zealand's Emma Twigg was rewarded for her perseverance with a gold medal after getting fourth at two successive Olympic games. Photo: Getty Images
Few have worked harder for an Olympic gold medal than Emma Twigg. Nobody will begrudge her this moment of glory.

In her fourth Olympic single sculls final, Twigg got her bow-ball over the line first, capping an incredible regatta and an amazing, at times luckless, career.

It kicked off one of the great hours in New Zealand Olympic history with her gold quickly followed by a silver for the women's eight and then the men's eight claiming their first gold since the 1972 Olympics.

Twigg, 34, now has sixth, fourth, fourth and this victory, and having given up the sport, she has triumphed over what looked to be a cruel Olympic fate.

Twigg looked awesome from the start, staking herself to a small lead at 500m, a commanding one at the halfway mark. Thoughts that she might tie up in the second half of the race were soon dispelled as she kept increasing her lead over Russian starlet Hanna Prakatsen and Austria's Magdalena Lobnig.

Twigg won in an Olympic best time of 7m 13.97s, blitzing the field. Prakatsen took silver in 7m 17.39 and Lobnig 7m 19.72s.

"I can't believe it. Honestly, crossing the line it was disbelief," an exhausted Twigg said.

"I didn't hear the hooter and thought I had stopped before the line.

"I'm lost for words. I can't believe it. All these years, many, many disappointments. I can't thank the people I have surrounded myself with enough. They got me here. That's not my result, it's my team.

"I had a great moment with my coach Mike [Roger] before. He didn't know if he was going to be here with me after a car crash. I'm lost for words. This is fate. Here we are - it's an amazing feeling," she said through tears.

"For me this is for everybody. It's a dream come true."

The Hawke's Bay sculler left everything on the Sea Forest Waterway course, barely having the energy to even smile as she dangled her feet outside the boat.

She took two years out following Rio, worked for the IOC and it was while at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in 2018 that she started entertaining thoughts about a comeback.

Abandoning a plan to cycle from Switzerland to Singapore, Twigg instead returned to New Zealand and her partner Charlotte (they married last year). She also returned to Lake Karapiro with a reinvigorated passion for the sport forged on the Clive River under the eye of her father Peter, a coach at the Hawkes Bay Rowing Club.

Twigg paid tribute to Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler, who inspired her on their way to gold yesterday, and to "my beautiful wife Char. She has changed my philosophy on life. I'm a very lucky girl".

There was something different about her campaign this time, which has been picked up by the likes of two-time gold medallist Eric Murray.

"Twigg is rowing better than ever, and she must be the favourite now," he wrote in the Herald. "She has overcome the disappointment of finishing fourth at two Olympics, and is an example of how to get a great balance in life and sport.

"So much goes into rowing technique. But she is rowing the best I've ever seen and looks so relaxed."

Single minded and laser focused, Twigg's is a fascinating story of perseverance. She is one of few to butt heads with Rowing New Zealand head office and, eventually, win.

In 2015 Twigg, with both eyes on the future, pursued a Fifa Masters graduate programme taught across universities in Leicester, Milan and Neuchatel, Switzerland. With Rio de Janeiro just a year away and with Twigg having won her first world championships in 2014, Rowing NZ was not overly enamoured of her decision.

At that stage, Twigg was getting antsy. The single scull is by definition a lonely pursuit. She'd been denied the opportunity to trial for the double and was a little miffed.

She went and got the masters and simultaneously trained as hard as she ever had. Rowing NZ wouldn't allow her to compete at that year's world cups because she wasn't part of the programme, but having rejoined at the end of her academic year, she still qualified through the last-chance regatta.

Twigg then suffered the acute agony of a fourth-place finish in Rio, mirroring her result from London. She concedes that the year after London was not an easy time in her life as she lived with the regret of not performing to her maximum in the semifinal, which meant a poor lane for the final. That was pivotal; with a crosswind at the Eton Dorney course meaning that only the inside lanes had a realistic chance of winning a medal.

If London was gutting, Rio was a new level of pain.

"Another fourth, it's almost my worst nightmare but that's sport and there are other things in life," she said in the immediate aftermath. "It's something I'll have to live with for the rest of my life that I won't be an Olympic champion, which is a dream I've had since I was a young girl."

Whatever the opposite of prescient is, that statement is it. Instead, the following one will ring true for years.

"I would say to anyone that has had a bit of failure," she said today, "keep at it."

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