Promising start for Drysdale at Karapiro

SPORTS TALK BY JOSEPH ROMANOS
Last updated 10:50 24/02/2012

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OPINION: It was heartening to see Mahe Drysdale look so strong in regaining his national single sculls rowing crown at Lake Karapiro over the weekend.

Drysdale, not in the best of health, lost the single sculls title last year to fellow Olympian Nathan Cohen, which set the stage for a great 2012 final.

With Peter Taylor and Eric Murray also in the mix, the race was one of the best in New Zealand single sculls history.

As Drysdale pointed out later, there were three world champions and a world championship silver medallist in the field, so the quality was unarguable.

(In passing, watching the four great rowers compete so hard to win a New Zealand title reinforced what a farce it is calling Sonny Bill Williams a New Zealand boxing titleholder after his joke bout against American Clarence Tillman this month.)

After rowing promisingly at Auckland University, Drysdale abandoned the sport for a time, only to be inspired to take it up again by single sculler Rob Waddell's heroics at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Drysdale was part of an odd- looking New Zealand coxless four at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

He is 1.98m (6ft 6in) and was so much taller than his team-mates that the boat looked unevenly balanced in Athens, though the New Zealanders did finish fifth in the final.

Drysdale always appealed as a more likely single sculler, and so it has proved.

He has ruled world single sculling since he won his first world title, in Japan in 2005.

He won that one in incredible circumstances, having broken two vertebrae in a crash with a water skier earlier in the year.

Drysdale has won five world titles and in 2010, again battling an injury, took the silver when the world champs were held at Lake Karapiro. His only letdown was at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when he was third.

It was a most unfortunate week for the popular Drysdale. He was named the New Zealand's Olympic team captain, and understandably marched proudly in the opening ceremony, carrying the flag at the head of the team.

This was a strength-sapping, steamy evening and Drysdale and his team-mates stood around for hours waiting to march into the stadium. They wouldn't have got to sleep till 2am, by which time they'd have been exhausted.

Drysdale had to be up very early because the first round of single sculls heats began later that morning.

Unfortunately he picked up a stomach bug, possibly during the draining opening ceremony evening, and struggled for the next week to shake it off.

Though well below his best, he fought his way into the Olympic final.

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Drysdale rowed courageously but could manage only third in the final, finishing totally shattered.

He got to the line on guts and determination.

As he slumped in his boat, he vomited and collapsed before being carried into a waiting ambulance.

So Drysdale has unfinished business at the London Olympics later this year.

He's 33, so this is his last shot at Olympic glory.

It would be only fair for him to round off a brilliant career adding an Olympic gold to his already impressive CV.

Winning such a competitive New Zealand championship final was a good start.

- The Wellingtonian

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