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Exclusive: Rowing NZ pull world champion boat from Olympics

Rowing New Zealand has been forced to withdraw one of its most favoured boats from the Tokyo Olympics.

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A suitable partner for Jackie Kiddle was unable to be found after McBride's recent retirement. Source: 1 NEWS

The reigning world champion New Zealand lightweight women’s double will not go to Tokyo, despite the boat being qualified.

It follows the retirement of Zoe McBride last month due to health reasons.

Her decision left Jackie Kiddle without a race partner.

“It’s pretty gutting, but at the same time, it is what it is and that’s the nature of sport and we just have to keep pushing on,” Kiddle said from Rowing NZ headquarters at Lake Karapiro.

She reiterated she fully supports McBride’s decision to put her health first.

“Zoe and I have been rowing together for six years. You develop a relationship with someone and she’s a good friend and part of my rowing family and an excellent rower,” Kiddle smiled.

“We’re in a lightweight category where the weight can cause issues. I’m not happy to row with anyone who’s going to be unhealthy, so I fully support her decision to retire when she did.”

Their coach James Coote echoed those thoughts, and sympathised with Kiddle.

“It is gutting, but it is also sport and it’s also life as well. They’re both high achievers, they’ve both got huge standards in themselves and their health is number one first, in terms of Zoe. But then Jackie also making sure she can compete at a level she wants to,” Coote explained.

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Rowing world champion Zoë McBride retires months out from Olympic debut

Rowing New Zealand tried different combinations with Kiddle as a last-ditch attempt to get to Tokyo, but none of them worked.

“The task ahead of us was around 100 days until the Olympics. People train their whole careers to make it to an Olympics to just be able to compete, let alone win and with any of the options, there just wasn’t the runway to be able to do it,” Coote said.

One of those was bringing in former Rowing NZ elite squad member and former lightweight double sculls rower Lucy Strack, who last held an oar seven years ago.

“It went from it being an option, with Zoe retiring, there was a seat there,” Strack said.

“It was either going to be filled or it couldn’t be, so it was just too tempting to resist the urge to give it a crack. You have to go all in at that point so within three days I packed by bags and moved to Cambridge.”

And there, her and Kiddle spent nine days of what Strack calls a “bootcamp”.

“I suffered, I was broken," Strack said.

"It was a very quick change back into that high-performance environment. In my time off I’ve kept fit, I’ve competed in Ironman at the World Champs, so fitness for me I wasn’t too concerned about. But rowing fitness is quite different and fitness to be an Olympian is another level,” Strack laughed.

They took part in prognostic testing for the winter series, which is three days of gruelling racing to try to determine where the crews are in comparison to others around the world.

1 NEWS has seen the timings and Kiddle and Strack showed some potential, especially considering the little time they’d had as a combination.

“We rolled into racing, we were at the start line, I gave Jackie a bit of a pat on the back and I said let’s go for it, let’s see what we can do,” a smiling Strack explained.

“I have to say I went into the [pain] tunnel pretty quickly,” she joked.

“So about 500 metres in I was supposedly breathing pretty hard at this point, but actually managed to bounce back pretty well in the second kilometre.”

But, it wasn’t enough to convince Rowing NZ and, ultimately, the call was made to pull the lightweight double from Tokyo.

Kiddle will now turn her attentions to the World Championships in Shanghai in October where she will enter the lightweight single sculls.

“I haven’t raced in a lightweight women’s single for a while, not since 2014 when I did the under-23s. So, it is a new challenge, but I’m quite excited about it,” Kiddle said.

Paris 2024 is now the Olympic goal for Kiddle, but she will have to watch over the next few months as her teammates prepare for Tokyo, before they head off for the Games.

“The next few months are absolutely going to be tough and I’m well aware of that and I’m preparing myself for that, but I’m incredibly supportive of my team.”