Mark down the names Charlotte Lightfoot and Riley Wills as two to watch in the coming seasons after both clinched the premier single sculls titles on the final day of the 2022 Aon Maadi Cup at Lake Ruataniwha today.
Both has advanced into the under 18 finals as quickest qualifiers and justified their favouritism, albeit in different ways.
Lightfoot, the pride of Queen Charlotte College in Picton, was emotional after winning her final in some style.
She led from the start and withstood challenges from Elsie Talbot of Craighead Diocesan and Eleanor Baldi of Bayfield High School on a fog-shrouded lake.
The same trio had won the medals at the recent South Island secondary schools regatta, but with Baldi and Talbot swapping placed.
Medals don’t come along every year for the school on the edge of the Marlborough Sounds.
It’s thought the last female medals for the school came in the winning of the Dawn Cup in its inaugural year, 1980, which included her coach, Kaye Surgenor. However there have been other medals more recently, notably from 2012 Olympic champion Joe Sullivan, who has been in regular contact with Lightfoot.
‘’All last night he was reassuring me I’d be fine,’’ Lightfoot said.
‘’I’m absolutely stoked. I can’t really believe it. It was really scary when I went hard through the first 500m.
‘’I saw Bayfield and Craighead coming up on either side, so I had to go harder and harder. I had a few bad strokes but said to myself ‘I can’t stop now’.
She didn’t, clocking 8min 17.54s, holding off Baldi (8:19.37) and Talbot (8:20.43) before collapsing forward in her boat, after punching the water in delight.
And yes, there were tears, in the boat and on the shore.
‘’It hasn’t really sunk in that I’ve won a national event. I dreamed of being in front but didn’t think I would be there.’’
And just when she was thinking her season had ended on a high, she was reminded she has national junior trials coming up shortly at Lake Karapiro.
She had her parents, sister, grandparents willing her on today, but she had special praise for Surgenor’s influence this season. As an old girl of the school, she wanted to make sure Lightfoot – the school’s only rower – had support.
‘’She’s so calming even when I’m stressing out. She was reassuring me, it’ll be okay, trust myself. I’m just so thankful.’’
As for Wills, he had to work hard for his second gold of the regatta.
Having been part of the winning St Paul’s Collegiate coxed quad yesterday, Wills doubled up today, but admitted he enjoyed the team gold more.
‘’At the start of the season, we weren’t feeling too good about it,’’ he said. ‘’There were words about getting scratched.’’
Wills also had to battle through a bout of Covid and only had a week back on the water before coming to Maadi.
He had a cracking battle with Marlborough Boys’ College’s Ashley-James Fitzgerald who led through to the 1500m mark.
It took time but slowly Wills reeled him in and had the race in hand 100m before the end, recording 7:25.78, with Fitzgerald crossing in 7:27.22 and Xavier Simpkins of St Peter’s College Auckland third in 7:28.01.
Wills kept saying to himself ‘’pain is temporary’’ as he entered the hurt zone over the second half.
He was worried about the fog which had settled over the course – ‘’that was a pretty big mind game for me’’ - but had great faith in his Laszlo boat, which was his reward for winning the under 17 single last year.
This is his final year at school and he’s clear where his priorities are for next year.
‘’I’d like to be rowing for New Zealand.’’