The fourth time was the charm for Robbie Manson, as he won his first single sculls final this weekend at the New Zealand rowing championships, the biggest domestic meet in the country.
Manson, who is openly gay, took the prestigious title after falling short the previous three times. Manson’s brother Karl took third in the event. Rowing is huge in New Zealand and its rowers regularly win major titles internationally and at the Olympics.
“I have focused on the single since [the Rio Olympics] and have worked hard towards winning this title,” Manson, 27, told Outsports. “It means a great deal to me to be the national champion in the single and it would be a dream to race the single internationally.”
Winning nationals was big for Manson since he hopes to be selected as New Zealand’s single sculler at World Cup rowing events in Poland and Switzerland and the World Championships in Sarasota, Fla. this year.
“If I am selected in the single I will have very big boots to fill as Mahe Drysdale from NZ has won the single at the past two Olympics,” Manson said. “And I might have a challenge on my hands as he has indicated his intention to return to rowing next year, after taking one year out, at the age of 38.”
How big is winning the national singles sculls title in New Zealand? Every winner from 2005-16 has won at least one Olympic gold medal (four different rowers).
At the same meet this weekend, Manson and doubles partner Chris Harris repeated as national champions in the double sculls. It was Manson’s sixth national doubles title. The two men raced in that event at the Rio Olympics. Manson hopes to compete at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, though there are a lot of meets before then.
Manson came out publicly as gay in 2014 and has not looked back. He has not let his sexual orientation define him, but he also acknowledges the role he can play in helping other LGBT people in sports.
Manson last year teamed with the advocacy group The Waterboy, whose goal is to keep children involved in sports. They produced a video where Manson spoke schools to discuss homophobia in sports. It’s a great example of an athlete giving back.