Rowing's results built on 8-year plan

JOHN ALEXANDER
Last updated 12:28 08/08/2012

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New Zealand rowers have enjoyed unprecedented success at the London Olympics, their brilliant scoop of three gold and two bronze medals beaten only by Great Britain.

However, Rowing New Zealand is not resting on their laurels and already plans are in place to ensure the London success is built on, said euphoric Rowing New Zealand board chairman Ivan Sutherland from Blenheim.

He knows a bit about the Olympic Games. The Wairau club president won bronze as part of the New Zealand eights crew at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. He was chosen in the eight for Moscow in 1980 but the boycott prevented him going, then he was the New Zealand rowing team's manager in 1988 and 1992.

Speaking on Monday night at Heathrow Airport, just before flying back home to Blenheim, Sutherland was delighted with New Zealand's success.

"It's been a phenomenal week. Amazing. We had a great social gathering on Saturday when it was all over. We got all family and friends and supporters to join us and the media at our day house near the course and we [Rowing New Zealand] put on food and drinks. There were about 300 people there. It was great."

Rowing New Zealand's pre-Olympic goals were to win three medals of any colour and get five crews into A finals. They far exceeded that in what was New Zealand's most successful Olympic regatta by far.

"Five medals, three gold and two bronze, is fantastic. The results were not unexpected but there's a fine line. A lot of good crews [from other countries] missed out on A finals."

Success at London was the result of a long buildup and a change in the way rowing operated at the elite level, Sutherland said. That included the part the four high performance centres, including the Central Region Performance Centre based at the Wairau Rowing Club in Blenheim, played in that change.

"Over the last few years we've professionalised our structure and had top sponsorship. These performances will inspire. They will inspire young New Zealanders to take up rowing.

"The plan goes back a long way. The Central RPC has contributed greatly to this, developing Joseph Sullivan through the system."

Rebecca Scown, Robbie Manson, Sean O'Neill, Louise Ayling, Louse Trappitt, Fiona Paterson and Anna Reymer from the current squad all row for Central RPC at the nationals.

"I'm a big fan of working to an eight-year plan. You just about have to take a person to the Olympics for the experience and, even if they fail to win a medal, they come out even more determined to perform next time.

"It's a great result for the sport in London. We'll sit down, review, strategise for the year ahead. We've already done a significant amount of planning for Rio [Olympics in 2016]."

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While there will probably be a retirement or two from the current squad, Sutherland hopes most will be available and want to carry on through to Rio.

"There's people rowing very successfully at the Olympics at 40. They are still passionate and have the inner belief to succeed."

Sutherland was very proud to be involved with Rowing New Zealand as an administrator and felt what the squad achieved in London was ". . . the perfect script".

"But we want to get even better. We have an objective to be the best nation in world rowing and we will never stop trying to achieve that goal."

The afterglow of success was also a highlight. Sutherland said the phone calls and messages of congratulations made him humble and proud to be a New Zealander.

Sutherland was among several Marlborough supporters who travelled to London to watch the rowers.

Long-time Wairau and Marlborough Girls' College coach Dave Williamson and his wife Sharon were there and they were blown away by the Kiwi rowers, especially Sullivan and Nathan Cohen's gold medal-winning effort in the double scull.

In an email to The Express this week, Dave Williamson said, "We headed off to Windsor to have a drink with Elaine and Mike Sullivan [Joseph's parents from Picton] and we agreed his gold medal had completed his journey from being a New Zealand junior reject to an Olympic champion.

"To cap a great day off, a shattered Joseph turned up for a drink with us. He goes outside for some fresh air and is mobbed by a group of children wanting to get a photo of him. The Picton boy is famous but he will still be ‘Wingy' to his mates.

"I remember the day the Picton boys put insulation tape wording on Joseph's old bomb car just after he won his first world under 23 title. It said, ‘Joseph Sullivan, world under 23 champion, sponsored by mum and dad'."

Sullivan won't have to worry about transport in future, being the proud owner of a brand new Audi, given to all New Zealand's gold medal winners, and you can bet his mates at the Picton Rowing Club will be lining up to do a few laps of the town centre in it.

- The Marlborough Express

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