I watched the Sky Sport presentation of the Maadi Cup --- the New Zealand Secondary Schools Rowing Competitions. The regatta was staged at Lake Ruataniwha --- and the commentator, a former New Zealand rowing world champion, managed, haltingly, to make its name sound something like that.
Lake Ruataniwha, on the southern edge of Twizel in the Mackenzie Country, was at its resplendent autumnal best. There were Canadian maples in a huge array of colours, Douglas Firs, Oregon pines, and numerous other exotic varieties. The water was calm --- blessedly the ubiquitous mid-Canterbury wind stayed away.
In actual fact, the competition wasn’t great. Most races were won by considerable margins, and even the enthusiastic efforts of the commentator and the awkward angles of the television cameras couldn’t mask that fact. The after-race interviews, ecstatic and breathless, didn’t elicit great depth of response: “Omigod, it’s amazing!”, “ Awesome! I love these girls!” were highlights from the girls, and “We knew they’d come out strong,” and “The boys really dug in in the second thousand” were among the better insights from the cream of New Zealand’s young male rowers. Maybe it was the questions....
What really fascinated me was the names: Arlah and Ruby, Debs and Millie, Tinks and Alice, Holly and Emily. Somehow Whetu and Ruwa, Ngareta and Malia, Vaitoelau and Te Paea, all missed the cut. Maybe they didn’t have the stamina. Manu missed out on the boys’ crews as well, and maybe I simply missed Nikau and Maka and Ngaiwa and Saio and Yashika. However, as the New Zealand Rowing-friendly, and deeply knowledgeable commentator enthused over the efforts ofWockatanee and Wockatip High Schools, the mothers emerged from the campervans and the school-crested tents, bob hair cuts and upturned collars, shouting “Splendid!” and “Pursue them Dio,” while millions of dollars worth of racing shells slid gracefully past them, carrying the future generations of rowing parents.
Sacred Heart Auckland was there, surely the foremost Catholic rowing school in Aotearoa, and some other Sacred Hearts and Villa Maria and St Patricks and John Paul were mentioned in despatches --- up there with the big names, holding their own, making a statement, competing on the national stage, keeping up with the Joneses. (My old school, mercifully, wasn’t as prominent this year as last.)
But on reflection, it wasn’t the Joneses. It might have been the Braithwaite-Willisons or the Barton-Gingers, the fforbes-Hamiltons or the Porteous-Barrs, good and honourable people, pursuing the sport they love, nurturing the next echelon of New Zealand rowing Olympians, sipping a Waipara (Wypra) chardonnay or a cheeky Central Otago pinot noir, as they willed on the boys’ eights, the pinnacle, the Maadi Cup, the line-up of New Zealand’s most privileged schools, who, like cream rising to the top, completely justified the millions and millions of dollars that they represent. As the winning captain said: “We are the best of the best.”
Perhaps ironically? Veronica Wall of Ashburton College --- the winner of the Under 16, Under 17 and Under 18 Single Skulls, and the Under 18 coxed quadruple skulls: four gold medals; undoubtedly the unqualified star of the regatta; and, as far as I could ascertain on the Sky TV coverage, hers may have been the only face at the regatta that wasn't white.