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TOKYO (Reuters) - Five rowers and rowing crews to watch out for at the Tokyo Olympics:
NEW ZEALAND WOMEN'S EIGHT
The United States have had a stranglehold on the women's eight, taking home gold in the event in the last three consecutive Games. However, New Zealand have emerged as a possible - if once seemingly unlikely - contender to dethrone the Americans in Tokyo.
After settling for fourth place in Rio, the crew picked up its first-ever World Rowing Championships gold in the event in 2019, leaving a stunned American crew five seconds behind in third place.
OLAF TUFTE (NORWAY)
Norway's ageless sensation Olaf Tufte is set for his seventh Olympics, competing in the men's quad after picking up gold twice in the single sculls, and claiming silver and bronze in the double sculls.
A jack-of-all-trades, the 45-year-old farmer and firefighter spent the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown training, of course, but also starting up his own brewery, producing the grain and herbs for his concoctions on his own farm.
"(He is) quite an amazing athlete," World Rowing Communications Director Melissa Bray told Reuters. "As a character he's really interesting and his passion for rowing has not dwindled at all."
SANITA PUSPURE (IRELAND)
With two World Championships titles and two golds in the European Championships, Sanita Puspure is on the hunt for that elusive piece of Olympic hardware after coming up short in Rio and London.
The 39-year-old dominant single sculls competitor, who won her 2019 World Championships title by a margin of more than three seconds, would be the first woman to bring home an Olympic rowing medal for Ireland if she can succeed.
GERMANY MEN'S EIGHT
As Britain fights to stay atop the medal table in rowing for a fourth Olympics in a row, their old German foe in the men's eight could hamper their efforts - if they can keep their poise.
After settling for silver in Rio, the German men's eight stormed to the top of the podium at the World Championships in 2019, but blew an early lead to finish a disappointing fourth in April's European Championships.
"Us and Germany," British Rowing Performance Director Brendan Purcell told Reuters. "Unless something else happens, it could be one of those absolute ding-dong, drag-it-out battles."
KARA KOHLER (UNITED STATES)
Kara Kohler was passed over for the Rio team after winning bronze in the quad sculls at the 2012 Games, a setback that reportedly nearly led her to quit the sport.
She decided to go it alone instead, winning the U.S. team trials in the single sculls earlier this year after picking up bronze in the 2019 World Championships.
"While it's been stressful, it's also been incredibly rewarding," Kohler, 30, told reporters at the Team USA Media Summit. "Especially the last year, you just learn to take it day by day and work on what you can."
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in Tokyo; Editing by Ken Ferris)