Tokyo 2020 could be Emma Twigg's career swansong

Emma Twigg of New Zealand in action during the 2019 World Rowing Championships in Linz-Ottensheim, Austria. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
Emma Twigg of New Zealand in action during the 2019 World Rowing Championships in Linz-Ottensheim, Austria. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

New Zealand rower could capture that elusive Olympic medal at fourth Games

When New Zealand's Emma Twigg just narrowly missed top podium at Rio 2016, she thought she was done with the sport.

The rower, who also competed in both Beijing 2008 and London 2012 but who had yet to win a medal at the Olympic Games, finally decided to take a hiatus from competition - not knowing if she will ever row again as an athlete.

But two years after her heartbreaking decision to stop rowing, she flew to Switzerland to work for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games and there, she found her love for the sport reignited.

"My break has allowed me to freshen up and has given me a renewed love for the sport," she told newshub.co.nz.

"It's exciting and looking back, I'm so pleased that I had those two years to regather."

To help her come back to top form in rowing, she assembled a strong team of experts - with her coach Mike Rodger plus a group that includes a physiologist, a strength conditioning coach, a biomechanist and sports psychologist.

With this team behind her, she became physically and mentally as strong as she ever before. Not only did she row back to a successful 2019 season but bagged a second place in the world championships in Austria and won the Princess Royal Challenge Trophy at the Henley Regatta - her second event only after being away from the international scene. She also won in the World Cup II and World Cup III.

“I felt like my 2019 season exceeded my expectations,” Twigg said. “After having had two years of no rowing, I was pleasantly surprised by how my season ended up, and to top it off with a Gold Cup win was pretty cool," she told rowingnews.com.

Rowing to the top

With a strong season finish last year, she has been named as New Zealand's single sculler which, requires no trial following national championships and means she could just fully prepare for her bid for Tokyo.

And with the postponement of the Games, Twigg has had time for reflection.

“You can’t go through a pandemic, or a situation like this, and not have your perspective changed. It certainly reinforces the reasons I row, which is as much about inspiring people and doing my part as an athlete with a profile as it is about trying to win medals and claim the glory," she told rowingnews.com.

Luckily, her training has not been very much impacted with the lockdown.

"We were back on the water within six weeks or so, which was huge because the lockdown certainly taught me that I was not a big fan of the erg. I loved to row and I loved to be on the water, so getting back in the boat was pretty awesome."

Tokyo 2020 in year 2021 could be a career swansong for Twigg - where she could finally medal after narrowly missing on finishing on top podium in previous Games.

“It’s just another step in the story really,” Twigg explained. “My career has been full of ups and downs. I’ve also had some very high highs as well, and a lot of success, and I can look back now with a lot of pride, which I couldn’t a few years ago."

But for Twigg, it's important to have perspective and to enjoy the moment regardless of whether she ends up with that medal or not.

“If Tokyo means that I achieved my dream of an Olympic medal, then awesome. But also, at the same time, just being there and experiencing it is a different perspective for me.”

An advocate for equality

Whilst she spends most of her days training and rowing, she is also enjoying time with her wife Charlotte Mizzi, a Wellington cricketer whom she married last January.

In fact it was her marriage to Mizzi that made her realise about why it's important for her to shine a light about LGBTQ athletes.

“As I’ve grown, I’ve realised the power of my profile, and the opportunity to do good using the hard work I put into my sport," she told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Now she feels empowered to become an advocate for the community and wants to inspire young athletes who are struggling with their sexuality.

“I feel very lucky that I’ve always been surrounded by people that have never shown me any kind of disrespect, and my sexuality hasn’t been a focal point of my sporting career," she said.

“If you do have success, then you’re in an even better spot to do that, so that’s what drives me. Sport is a vehicle to shine a light on these things."