By Rupert Guinness at the Sydney International Regatta Centre


Aisyah Rafaee is relishing the chance to race Australian World Championship Bronze medallist Tara Rigney once more after the Singaporean qualified for the Single Scull final.


Rafaee is only four months into her comeback to rowing after “retiring” following the 2016 Rio Olympic Games where she was the first to represent Singapore in rowing at the Games.


On Tuesday, Rafaee, 35, qualified for the Women’s Single Scull Final on Thursday by winning her repechage. And afterwards, she happily said: “Now I get a chance to race Tara again”.


Day 2 of the Australian Rowing Championships produced a feast of desperate ‘last chance’ racing for many athletes as most of the events were repechage races for the smaller boats.


Rafaee leads a vanguard of overseas athletes using the Australian Rowing Championships as preparation for their last bids to qualify for – or to compete in – the Olympic Games in Paris.


Rafaee has been selected as Singapore’s Single Sculler. But she must still qualify the boat for the 2024 Olympics at the Asian Olympic Qualifying Regatta in Chungiu in South Korea on April 19-21. She needs a top five finish in South Korea to book her Olympic ticket to Paris.


Rafaee lives in the United States with her American husband Ross Zuckerman, but has been in Sydney since December training and racing for the Sydney University Rowing Club under coaches Alan Bennett, Don McLachlan and Alfie Young. Her dream is to represent Singapore again in the wake of her 2016 Olympic debut where she won the Single Scull D-Final.


Rafaee has plenty of competition to gauge her form from at the Australian Rowing Championships, from both Australia against the likes of Rigney and overseas entrants.


Teams from Vietnam and Thailand and competing. There is also a sculler from Zimbabwe, Stephen Cox who has already qualified for the Olympics. Racing for Sydney Rowing Club, Cox won his Heat of the Open Men’s Single Scull on Monday to make Wednesday’s Semi-Final.


On Tuesday, Rafaee, needing a top two in the repechage to make Thursday’s Final, won in 8 minutes 02.02 seconds, beating the other qualifier, Thailand’s Nuntida Krajahgjam by 4.43s.


Because it’s early days into her comeback, Rafaee is taking every race as a chance to improve, rather than win. She has a check list in her head, a list of all the basics needed.


“There was a little bit of a race plan … I have basically just started racing again, like four months ago,” said Rafaee afterwards. “It’s about being brief or simple … to think, ‘attack’ or look at my Speed Coach, things I need to check off … to be like, ‘Okay, I need to do this.


“I’m glad … it was like, not 100 per cent but was more or less like better than yesterday.


“I want more race experience; more races will help me prepare for the big race in Korea.”


The two Final qualifiers from the other repechage were Pham Thi Hue from Vietnam who won in 8:01.03 and beat Elizabeth Newell from the University of Queensland by 02.72.


Joining them in the Final will be Heat 1 winner Rigney and her runner-up Sophie Reinehr (Mercantile Rowing Club) behind whom Rafaee finished third; and Heat 2 winner Ria Thompson (University of Queensland) and Catherine Khan (Australian National University).


Rafaee is excited about the challenge. She hopes to be better for today’s experience and that of Monday when she raced dual World Rowing Championship bronze medallist, Rigney.


Asked how she felt about lining up and racing against Rigney on Monday, Rafaee smile and said: “It’s always a privilege to be rowing with amazing rowers. I started training intensively again four months ago, and here I am at the start line with someone who just won a bronze medal at the Worlds. I took in that moment. I’m like, ‘Okay, I know I’m going to have to be realistic. She’s going to be sprinting off, but let’s focus on my boat and see what I can do.”


Another highlight of Day 2 was the Heats of the Open Women’s Double Scull in which Australian Rowing Team members Hariet Hudson and Amanda Bateman raced officially and before the public for the first time since they were named as the Australian crew for 2024.


With only the first two to make Friday’s final, Hudson and Bateman won their Heat comfortably in 7:08.48. They beat Catherine Khan and Sophie Reinehr of ANU/Mercantile by 15.37 seconds and Singapore’s Joan Poh and Joanna Chan Lai Cheng by 21.95s.


ART members finished top three in Heat 2. Laura Gourley and Caitlin Cronin (Uni of Queensland/UTS Haberfield) won in 7:01.98 from lightweights Giorgia Miansarow and Anneka Reardon (ANU/SUBC) at 4.59s, and Rowena Meredith and Kathryn Rowan (SUBC-NTC) at 19.21s.



In heats of the Open Men’s Double Scull in which the first two qualified for the final, the Australian crew of David Bartholot and Marcus Della Marta (SUBC) won in 6:25.03, beating Australia A scullers Mitchel Reinhard and Harry Glackin (Capital Lakes/Adelaide) by 5.36s and the crew of Hamish Harding and Alec Paterson (Kand/ANU-ACT) by 22.38s.



The other heat was won by Oscar McGuinness and Caleb Antill (Adelaide-ANU) in 6:36.09. They beat Jack Cleary and Alex Rossi (WARC) by 3.03s and the crew of Joseph Wilson and Jack Barrett (North Esk-Buckingham) by 4.88s.


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