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Hellstrom, O'Neill to be challenged for top honour

Hellstrom, O'Neill to be challenged for top honours

Olympian Rob Hellstrom and Sean O'Neill face one of their toughest tests in the Wairau boat tomorrow (Saturday) when they defend their coxless pair title at the New Zealand rowing championships on Lake Ruataniwha, near Twizel.

Hellstrom, sixth in the four at the Sydney Olympics, and O'Neill will come under pressure from Avon's Ian Smallman and David Schaper, who is on the comeback trail.

Schaper is likely to be named in the national trials to be announced on Sunday. He has competed in the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics and is keen to extend his haul ofr national titles from 15 to 19.

The coxless pair final will be held tomorrow morning (9am) and is considered one of the prestige events at the regatta.

Of other major interest tomorrow will be the coxed four final ((12.30pm) for the Boss Rooster Trophy, where traditionally the new redcoat champions must repaint the rooster on the in their own club's colours within an hour of the race. Avon, the titleholders, are expected to battle it out with Wairau. Hamilton's Kate Robinson and Jackie Abraham are favourites in a strong women's coxless pair field. They should be closely challenged by Wairau sisters Annabel and Katie Ritchie, West End's Ailsa Schaper and Rosyln Papa.

Annabel Ritchie has been rowing in the top boat at the University of Washington which won this year's US collegiate championships. She is attending the nationals at Ruataniwha in a bid to earn national selection for the world championships in Milan later this year.

World champion sisters Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell are likely to dominate the women's double sculls and both coxless and coxed fours.

Caroline Evers-Swindells is certain to retain the Cato Cup and her singles title but Paula Twining (Mercer), Angela Fife (Cambridge) and Nicola Cooney (North End) will keep her honest.

A total of 585 rowers are competing in the 107th national regatta since it first began in Wanganui and Wellington in 1988.

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