Nicola Goss

Nicola Goss was at home in the small city of Palmerston North on the west side of New Zealand’s North Island when she learnt about the World Rowing Versa Challenge.

A regular indoor rowing competitor for years, Goss first heard of the Versa on Instagram. She went straight to the World Rowing website.

“I followed messages saying they’d release more information on this date and then this date, then saying 1st November,” says Goss. “I stayed awake most of the night to get the news of how to qualify.”

Having a trip to Canada up for grabs for the top 10 Versa placemakers was a real, but stressful, incentive for Goss. She had been targeting the 2023 World Rowing Indoor Championships (WRICH) in Mississauga, Toronto, Canada for two years.

To qualify for the Versa, Goss had to complete two qualifying challenges: 1 x 3333m then a second event of 7 x 2min 30’ with a 30 sec rest. She had the whole of November to complete the qualifiers and could opt to do it more than once.

“I was going away in November so I wanted to do them before going away. I didn’t want to have them hanging over me.”

She set herself up at her local gym and for the first test got her neighbour to do the recording. For the second test, Goss’s mum came along to record.

“The second one was stressful as I’m also an outdoor rower and we had been doing 4 x2k pieces that morning. Luckily the coach let us finish after three pieces.” No one at the gym took any interest. “I fly under the radar at the gym,” says Goss who was the first woman to submit her scores.

Goss did attempt a second go but found it mentally tough and didn’t finish it. This turned out not to be a problem as she qualified ninth and a trip to Canada, with the top ten earning a spot in the Challenge.

The Challenge will take place during the Indoor Championships and Goss won’t know what the challenge is until just before the event takes place. She’s secretly hoping for a long piece as that’s where her strength lies and to prepare Goss has been relying on her indoor coach who writes her programme from England.

“We’ve decided to train in anything up to a half marathon. So I’ve been doing six indoor rowing and two weights sessions a week. Today I’ll do 3 x 3k at an 18 stroke rate. My distances are slowly coming down as we get nearer to the competition. I did a half marathon in early January and since then it’s been around an hour or less on the rowing machine.”

Goss started indoor rowing at high school, 20 years ago. At that time she played “pretty much everything” and at the side of the school gym was a weights room.

“A friend and I started using it (indoor rowing machine) at lunch time.”

Goss then searched for indoor rowing competitions and found the New Zealand Indoor Rowing Championships. “I convinced my parents to take me to one of the comps. I went and had lots of fun. From there I haven’t looked back.”

For the Versa Challenge, Goss was drawn to it by the format. “It’s really exciting,” she says. “I’ve been in similar competitions before; ‘row battle’ and ‘row mania’ in 2021 and 2022 respectively, so I’ve got experience around this.

“In 2020 I decided to target Canada (for the World Rowing Indoor Championships) as I hoped it would be post-Covid. I was going to compete in the 2k. Then Versa came in and I thought I’d give it a go.”

Goss is open to admit her indoor rowing experience has been up and down.

“I’ve had some good results and down times over the years. I suppose if you look at top performing athletes, they all have peaks and troughs. In 2017 and 2018 I had good years. In 2019 I did a half marathon, a 2k and a marathon in the space of two weeks. Since them my form – in my point of view – has been poor. But I love the sport. For me personally I’m not at my best which is hard.”

Goss will leave for Canada on 21 February. She is one of the competitors that will have to travel the furthest distance for the 25 February start.

“I want to go to Canada, meet people and enjoy the experience and have fun. For me it’s not just about the results.”