University of Otago looking to retain ‘the Ashes’

Glen Sinclair.
Glen Sinclair.
The University of Otago is looking to retain a trophy it has essentially owned for the past 20 years.

It will defend ‘‘the Ashes’’ at the national tertiary rowing championships, which begin tomorrow at Lake Ruataniwha.

The Ashes are the remnants of Otago clubrooms which burnt down in 1999.

Since then there is only one year the university club has not won them, by accumulating the most points to be the top overall university at the regatta.

This year a team of about 100 will compete, ranging from novices, who began rowing less than two months ago, to top performers.

Otago University coach and CEO Glen Sinclair said all were key when it came to winning points towards the Ashes.

However, there was some strong talent within that group.

‘‘Talent overall I’d say, on the women’s side in particular, is really strong this year,’’ Sinclair said.

‘‘Some talent that may have normally gone over to the United States on university scholarships has come down here.’’

Among the top first-year students were Holly Williams, from Cambridge, and Ella Price, from Wellington.

Both had slotted into the team’s top women’s boat — which was a rarity for those in first year.

The club had less competition in the past year. While its rowers typically went overseas, particularly to China, to race in various invitational regattas, that was not possible due to Covid-19.

However, Sinclair said the rowers had been happy to be on the water after lockdown.

Indeed, many other countries were only beginning to get back on the water now.

Despite that, the national championships had always been the primary focus, so this weekend would be a big one.

The University of Canterbury represented the biggest threat to the title. It had built its programme back up to its pre-earthquake strength.

‘‘This has always been our No 1 priority,’’ Sinclair said of the tertiary championships.

‘‘First of all, do really well at home before we concentrate on overseas. The athletes know they have to do well at this to get those opportunities overseas.

‘‘It’s our first event of the year and very easily our most important.

‘‘The overseas regattas are the icing on the cake and the reward for doing well at the national champs.’’

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