Rowers must make NZ's dreams come true
It is time, to put it mildly, for New Zealand's rock star rowing squad to walk the walk. Or in their case to get in those black boats of theirs and deliver on all the promise and expectation they've built up over the last four years.
The pressure on this group of 26 athletes and their coaches is huge, the expectation almost suffocating. There is no middle ground for the elite among them - only success or failure. Their defining moment is at hand, and we are about to see if they're as good as everyone keeps telling us.
The comforting thing is they know this as well as anyone.
The big names among them - the Bond and Murrays, the Drysdales, the Taylor and Urus - have talked the talk throughout this year. They are comfortable in their skin, confident in their abilities. They understand that they're the deepest and deadliest group of New Zealanders at these Games, and that they hold in their calloused hands the very wellbeing of this Kiwi Olympic assault.
Now they also know it is time to deliver on that talk. To row the races of their lives, to drape medals - preferably golds - around their necks and, most of all, to turn the countless hours of training at their Karapiro enclave into results that will make their country proud.
No pressure, but 4 million Kiwis have become accustomed to seeing the black singlet on the dais at big-time regattas, and they will be very, very disappointed if that trend doesn't continue at Eton Dorney.
No pressure, but High Performance Sport NZ has optimistically set the bar at 10 medals for these Games, and needs the rowers to deliver a healthy chunk of those.
No pressure, but the swag bag of golds from world championships and World Cup events over the four-year cycle all mean nothing if they aren't backed up here.
There is nowhere to hide. But nor should there be. When you play sport at this level, when you produce the results that this group has on such a consistent basis, and when you ooze a sort of confidence that borders on cockiness, you embrace a moment like this, not run from it.
Everything suggests this will be a record-breaking Games for the rowers. Their previous best haul was four years ago in Beijing when the Evers-Swindell twins' gold and two bronzes for Mahe Drysdale and double-scullers Nathan Twaddle and George Bridgewater eclipsed the gold and silver from Munich in 72.
This squad has seven medal contenders, and maybe even eight if women's double-scullers Fi Patterson and Anna Reymer can come with a Swindells-like late run after an unsettled buildup.
The men's pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray are the closest thing to certainties for gold, after blazing a four-year path of domination through their event. Drysdale will have to contend with the classy Czech Ondrej Synek, but if he's anything near peak condition he should also get the gold he needs to round out a wonderful career.
The double scull of Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan and the lightweight double of Peter Taylor and Storm Uru are both also well in the mix for the medal that really counts, while the pair of Juliette Haigh and Rebecca Scown should also be there or thereabouts.
Throw in the fast-improving women's lightweight double of Julia Edward and Louise Ayling and the gritty Emma Twigg and you have a group who understand what it takes to contend at the business end of big races.
New Zealanders should feel excited about this group. They have had three special years hitherto, winning nine medals at the 2011 world championships, the same number in 2010 and five in 2009. Over that period they have produced 11 world champions.
They know how to train, they know how to race and, most importantly, they know how to win.
No pressure, no problem.
The Marlborough Express