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Year off rowing lifts Twigg to new level

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 12/05/2016 Daniel Gilhooly

Emma Twigg wonders if her successful return to the sport will encourage more premier New Zealand rowers to take year-long sabbaticals.

World class single sculler Twigg must negotiate the cut-throat qualifying regatta in Lucerne next week if she is to line up at her third Olympics, at Rio in August.

Her last international regatta was the 2014 world championships in Amsterdam, which she won for the first time to complete an unbeaten year.

Seemingly at the peak of powers, Twigg took last year off to complete a masters in sports management course in Europe, placing some uncertainty over her Rio prospects.

Her 2015 replacement was reluctant former world champion double sculler Fiona Bourke, whose failure to qualify New Zealand's singles boat for Rio leaves Twigg in the hot seat next week.

The 29-year-old told NZ Newswire she always felt Bourke would struggle to hit the Olympic target.

She felt she would have met it if given the opportunity but any bitterness towards Rowing NZ has dissipated.

"I can understand their stance," she told NZ Newswire.

"But I'm staring down the barrel of a qualifying regatta and I'm definitely nervous about it.

"I just have to back myself. I've backed myself for the last year."

Twigg felt mentally fresh when she returned to training on Lake Karapiro this summer, as she had expected.

The bonus was the physical benefits she attributes to a long period off the water. Weight training and cycling were staples for much of her year off.

Soon after returning to Cambridge she broke ergometer world records for 5km and one hour.

"There were benefits I didn't expect, maybe from buttoning off a bit and coming back," she said.

"The fitness and strength are there, no doubt. Now it's about getting the boat moving sweetly and executing the race plan."

Twigg's break mirrored that of Mahe Drysdale in 2013, a year after the Kiwi great won singles gold at the London Olympics.

Sabbaticals are otherwise uncommon for Kiwi rowers but Twigg says her initial experience is nothing but positive.

"There's a lot of examples of it internationally, although mostly post-Olympics rather than the qualification year. That was a big call on my behalf," she said.

"Let's just see how I go this year but it might something others will take a look at."

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