By Rupert Guinness at the Sydney International Regatta Centre


When dual World Rowing Championships Single Scull Bronze Medallist Tara Rigney talks of having “fun” at the Australian Rowing Championships, it often ends one way – with her winning.


The 2021 Olympian did just that at the national championships last year in Perth. Rigney, now 24, claimed the national title in the Single Scull for a second year, the Double Scull with Rowena Meredith, and then the Nell Slatter Trophy for NSW in Interstate Championships the Sunday after the national titles.


On day one of the 2024 Australian Rowing Championships at the Sydney International Regatta Centre in Penrith, Rigney continued her winning ways in her heat with an emphatic victory to position her as favourite for victory in Thursday’s final.


Rigney, who is also the NSW Champion and was racing for Sydney University, led the first of two heats in lane two from start to finish. With only the first two finishers to qualify directly for the final, she won in 7:53 seconds. In second was Victorian champion Sophie Reinehr at 12.71 secs, followed by Sydney University’s Aisyah Rafaee at 17.41 secs.


Heat two was won from lane five by Australian Quad Scull squad member Ria Thompson (University of Queensland) in 7:59.76s. In second was Catherine Khar of Australian National University at 3.1s, followed by Pham Thi Hue of Team Vietnam at 12.48s.


The Australian Rowing Championships are Australia’s biggest regatta, but national selection is not on the line due to the trials being held earlier. For many of the 2100 entries, this allows them to perform at their best without the pressure of selectors’ scrutiny hanging over them.


“It’s also about keeping it light, keeping it fun … and racing is fun for us,” said Rigney who last month was named in the Australian Rowing Team (ART) as the Women’s Single Sculler for the 2024 international season, which culminates with the Olympic Game and Paralympic Games in Paris.


Asked how she will approach the next days of the national titles leading up to Thursday’s Single Scull final, Rigney said: “Keep it fun. Keep it light heated. Look forward to Thursday.”


Rigney, coached by Ellen Randell, will also race in the Quad Scull on Saturday with the Australian Double Scull crew of Harriet Hudson and Amanda Bateman, and Australian Quad Scull squad member Kate Rowan; and again for NSW in the Single Scull in Sunday’s Interstate Regatta.


“I am very much looking forward to hopping into a ‘crew’ boat on Saturday,” Rigney said. “I’ll be in the bow seat, making the calls.”


Rigney’s victory in Monday’s heat was a confident one, but the race was still an important part of honing her race progress that she hopes will culminate with success at the Olympics.


“In the heat it is always nice to cement some good foundations to carry you for the week,” she said. “For me, that was accelerating my back end a bit more which I feel like I executed.


“I am stoked with the heat and looking forward to stepping it up again for the final.”


It was a similar story for NSW’s David Bartholot in the first of three Men’s Single Scull heats. Recently named in the Australian Men’s Double Scull with Marcus Della Marta, he convincingly won his heat in which the first four qualified for Wednesday’s semi-final.


Bartholot won in 7:2.85s, which was 7.26s from Hamish Hardy of ANU-ACT, and 12.88s from Caleb Antill of ANU-ACT. In fourth at 14.4s was Tasmanian Joseph Wilson of Buckingham.


Heat two was won by Della Marta in 7:02.89s, but by only 0.22s from Sydney University clubmate Campbell Watts, 8.79s from Queenslander Jackson Free of Griffith University-Surfers Paradise, and Joel Cain of Melbourne University by 11.55s.


Heat three was won by Stephen Cox of Sydney Rowing Club in 7:12.94s, followed by Nguyen Van Hieu at 2.33s, Victorian James Meads of Banks at 11.19s and Alexander Jeremijenko of Commercial-Queensland at 24.78s.


For David Bartholot, who was recently named in the ART with NSW’s Marcus Della Marta as the Australian Double Scull crew, his Single Scull heat win was as impressive as Rigney’s.


“I was trying to find rhythm through the middle of the race, at 34 to 35 [strokes per minute], to get as much speed as I could for that rate, and to control the race around that,” Bartholot said.


“I have to improve on each race. That was a good start. We just keep going from there.”