The Road from Waikato to Rio: Zoe Stevenson


This year Rowing New Zealand named its largest-ever team for an Olympic Games, with 31 athletes set to take on the world’s best in Rio in August. Making up the women’s double sculls crew are the young but experienced pair of Zoe Stevenson and Eve Macfarlane.

Since teaming up in March last year, 25-year-old Zoe and 23-year-old Eve have proven to be the perfect partnership. In 2015 they won two World Cup regattas followed by gold at the World Championships. That was Zoe’s second-straight world title having won the same event with Fiona Bourke in 2014.

Rio 2016 will be Zoe’s first Olympics and Eve’s second, where she competed as part of the women’s quad at the 2012 Games.

Eve Macfarlane and Zoe Stevenson.

Eve Macfarlane and Zoe Stevenson.

After making solid gains in training over the New Zealand summer, the pair is now on the Road to Rio which takes them to Europe to train and race other Olympic-bound athletes.

This month Mariah Ririnui caught up with Zoe about her final preparations for the Olympics, the importance of teamwork, and what inspires her to be an elite athlete.

What does your training and competition schedule look like between now and the Rio Olympics?
We are currently in Europe for a two-month tour. It involves three regattas in the first month; Rowing World Cup II, Holland-Beker regatta and Rowing World Cup III, then a month of training in Slovenia before we head from Europe straight to Rio.

We have done a lot of hard work (fitness, technique and habits) over the past few years, so these last couple of months are about sharpening up, putting all the pieces together, finding as much speed as possible and preparing ourselves for the madness of the Olympics.

How do you and your crewmate keep a good training environment and working relationship?
Eve and I have a really good relationship which is lucky because on tour we spend basically 24/7 in each other’s pockets. We room together, eat meals together, travel to training together etc.

We just make sure we stay as honest as we can about what’s going on because as long as everyone trusts that we are all doing what we are meant to be doing and putting in our full effort to make the boat go faster, then we can work through anything.

What do you do outside of your physical training that is key to your success?
The most important thing is getting proper rest and nutrition. Our training load is intense and if I don’t get enough calories in and “horizontal time” then things can go downhill fast and I end up with sickness or injuries that prevent me from training. Getting in the miles and hours in the boat is really important so I can’t afford to miss trainings due to being sick or injured.

Being an Olympic athlete is a 24/7 job because your body is your tool. This makes it really hard to switch off and get away because anything that tires you out can really affect your training.

I find it hard to resist a lot of exciting, adventure-based opportunities but I try to remember that there is time in the future to complete them, and so I add them to my bucket list. To keep mentally fresh, I try to keep up with university, write blogs, garden and read. These things challenge me in other ways and give me an escape from the “athlete lifestyle”.

Who makes up your support team and how important are they to achieving your goals?
I’m lucky to have a huge group of people that support me and allow me to focus on my sport. Most importantly are my family and my partner Michael. They give me support and help me to escape my everyday rowing life, keep me sane and level with mean jokes and love.

At rowing I’m hugely blessed to be a part of what I believe is the best training squad ever with our double; Mahe Drysdale in the single and Dick Tonks as coach. Mahe and us have similar speeds on the water (his World Record is 6:33min and ours is 6:37min), so every day we line up against each other and try to get one up. There is a lot of good will and no mercy! Being led by Dick Tonks is a real pleasure too. We have full trust in his leadership and that he will have us in the best shape come raceday.

We also have great support from High Performance Sport New Zealand and Rowing New Zealand. Through this system we have access to fantastic doctors, physios, massage therapists, nutritionists and sports psychologists. There are no excuses here!

What does it mean to you to represent New Zealand at the Olympics?
I am hugely proud to be a New Zealander and to represent this country at the Olympics. We do so well for such a small population and the more I travel the more impressive I realise we are. I just want to do everyone proud and add to the rich history we have.

What is your favourite motivational quote?
“If in doubt, row harder.”  This one comes from my dad and it works well in most situations. Most problems can be fixed with a bit more effort.

Keep up to date with the NZ Double Sculls crew on social media:
Instagram: /zoe_stevenson
Facebook: /NZdoublescull

Eve MacFarlane

Rio 2016 will be Eve’s second Olympic Games, having competed in the women’s quad at the London Olympics in 2012 where she finished 7th. Eve enters the Rio games as the 2015 World Champion in the women’s double with crew mate Zoe Stevenson.

Eve was brought up on a farm in North Canterbury and has always loved sport, particularly running. She first started rowing in 2009 at Rangi Ruru Girls’ School in Christchurch and is a member of Canterbury Rowing Club.

Alongside rowing Eve continues to follow her great love of art, working from her studio in Cambridge.
Eve first represented New Zealand in the Junior women’s eight in 2009 securing a silver medal, before going on in 2010 to win the Junior world title in the coxless four.

In 2010 she competed at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, finishing in seventh place. She was promoted to the elite women’s quadruple scull in 2011 coached by Richard Tonks and secured a third place finish at the World Cup regatta in Hamburg before taking a bronze medal at the World Rowing Championships in Bled, securing 2012 Olympic qualification.

Aged just 19, Eve was one of the youngest members of the 2012 New Zealand Olympic team, and one of the youngest competitors in the 2012 Olympic rowing regatta.

The quadruple scull crew missed out on a spot in the Olympic final after breaking an oar in the repechage.



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