Rupert Guinness at Champion Lakes Regatta Centre

Tara Rigney is hoisted aloft by Amanda Bateman and Harriet Hudson after victory at Champion Lakes.
Photo: Delly Carr

Tara Rigney’s win in the Australian Rowing Championship Open Women’s Single Scull Final on Thursday was literally one for the ages: The victory fell on her birthday.

Rigney (Sydney University-NSWIS) was imperious in beating her five other opponents at the Champion Lakes Regatta Centre at Armadale, near Perth, to win the inaugural Kim Brennan Cup. 

Into a headwind, Rigney led from start to finish in 7:49.75s, with Amanda Bateman (Melbourne University-VIS) 2.56s back in Silver and Harriet Hudson (Sydney-NSWIS) in third (9.03s behind Rigney).

Adding to the occasion, Bateman and Hudson, who with Rigney are 2023 Australian Rowing Team (ART) teammates, raised her onto their shoulders at the podium and led the crowd of spectators into a chorus line of Happy Birthday.

“It was a great time. I am thrilled to have such amazing teammates sing me Happy Birthday on the podium,” Rigney said. “It’s definitely been a memorable one so far.”

Rigney, a World Championship Bronze Medallist in the Single Scull last year, went into theFinal as the favourite off the back of two impressive victories in her Heat andSemi-Final.

But her win on Thursday was a step up, considering the highly credentialed field of opponents she raced against. She knew that there was no wriggle room for complacency.

“Absolutely not,” said Rigney, who will race the final of the Double Scull on Friday with Rowena Meredith (Sydney University-NSWIS), who was fourth in the Single Scull. 

“We have so much depth with Olympians and Olympic medallists. It’s never an easy race. Hats off to the girls. Everyone put out a gutsy performance in those conditions.

“My strategy was to try to get out in front, then when there’s a gust – right after the gust – go for a push. I knew then that the wind wasn’t going to blow me around straight after. So, [it was to] make those moves and press on with 500 metres to go.”

It was a highlight of Day Four of the Australian Championships that featured the small boat finals, including the Open Men’s Single Scull won by Caleb Antill (ANU-ACTHP), a member of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics Bronze Medal winning Quad Scull.

For Antill, his equally as stunning Single Scull victory for the Dr Stephen Hinchy Memorial Trophy was his first in the event after a frustrating run of podium finishes in past years.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It’s like playing Hard Quiz … ‘Thanks for playing … Hard!’” – Regatta commentator Ray Ebert while holding the Kim Brennan Cup for the Women’s Open Single Scull before Tara Rigney’s win. ‘Razor’ was bemused by its resemblance to that of the Tom Gleeson hosted TV show’s winner’s cup.

POSE OF THE DAY: The ‘pyramid’ formed by the three Women’s Open Coxless Pair crews after their medal ceremony. Chapeau for your on and off water prowess!

Antill won in 7:08.13s, beating Cormac Kennedy-Leverett (Griffith University-Surfers Paradise) by 1.13s and last year’s winner Jack Hargreaves OAM (Sydney University-NSWIS) by 4.79s.

“I think I’ve been second or third in this race, three or four times. I’m pretty done with those minor medals,” Antill said.

Antill labelled the Single Scull event as much “a race of the heart” as technique due to the individual nature of it. “Not everyone can do it,” he said. “The pressure is 100 per cent on you. There’s no combination. You’re alone. It’s all you.”

Antill went into the final intent on a dominant approach. He was second in the first 500m, but went by Kennedy-Leverett to lead at 1000m. 

“I knew Cormac wanted to lead the race out; so, I thought I’d take it to him in the first half and see if I could put him under a bit of pressure,” Antill said. “It worked, and I [thought] I should just build my way through the race.”