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NZ rowers gunning for gold at Tokyo Olympics praise Japanese hospitality

New Zealand rowers Kerri Gowler, left, and Grace Prendergast, take part in an online news conference on July 13, 2021, in this photo provided by Tokyo Gorin no Nekki o Biwako Ni! Iinkai, a group supporting the rowers in their training camp.

TOKYO -- New Zealand rowers Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast, world champions in the women's coxless pair, praised the hospitality and organization of officials in Japan following their arrival to compete in the Tokyo Olympic Games as they took part in an online news conference on July 13.

    Speaking from the western Japan prefecture of Shiga, where their training camp near Lake Biwa is located, Prendergast noted the local support the New Zealanders had received.

    "We rowed down the lake today and the rowing club down there were all standing, cheering for us, and waving, and it just feels like everyone's so excited," she said. "And I just love it here. Everyone just goes out of their way to help you with absolutely everything."

    "Just the organization of everyone ... everyone is just doing such a great job."

    Gowler said the coronavirus pandemic that delayed the games by a year presented its challenges, though the rowers were trying to make the best of them.

    "I think having an extra year was difficult. We were ready to go in 2020, but I think we're really motivated and an extra year has been really great for us to find some extra speed," she said. "I think we're really lucky in New Zealand that we don't have a lot of COVID-19 so we've been able to keep training the whole time."

    Prendergast, meanwhile, said it was disappointing not being able to go out more because of the spread of the coronavirus. "I feel so safe here, but it does make you sad. I wish we could go out and see what's around and enjoy the town more," she said.

    The heat of the Japanese summer also presented a challenge, and the rowers said they were making use of the training camp to acclimatize.

    "The training camp for us is a really good chance for us to get used to the heat, because back in New Zealand we're in winter, so it's very, very cold," Prendergast said. On July 13, the high temperature in the city of Otsu, the capital of Shiga Prefecture, was expected to reach 31 degrees Celsius.

    The rowers will compete in the women's pair, whose heats begin on July 24. The two will also appear in the women's eight and those heats start on July 25. They made it clear that they were gunning for a medal.

    "The New Zealand rowing team are pretty competitive people so I think each of our crews are going out to the Olympic Games trying to win," Prendergast said.

    When asked what they liked most about Japan, Prendergast was quick to share her enthusiasm for Japanese food.

    "I think about one of my favorite things about Japan, I just absolutely love the food. It's incredible. I could live off Japanese food all the time," she said.

    (By Aaron Baldwin, The Mainichi Staff Writer)

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