Mahe Drysdale showed yesterday the ability is obviously still there - the promising hint for Rowing New Zealand was the admission the enjoyment and desire may not have disappeared either.
The Olympic men's single sculls gold medallist shrugged off a lack of preparation to beat a high-class field to win the Billy Webb Challenge in Wanganui, with fellow Kiwi Olympic champion Nathan Cohen second and Sweden's Lassi Karonen third.
Following the 5km race on the Whanganui River, Drysdale admitted his victory would be a factor in his decision whether to chase another Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro in four years time or hang up his oars.
"It'll definitely be part of my decision-making process," Drysdale said.
"I still need to see how I feel, but I enjoyed it today, going through the pain barrier.
"I'm still not ready to commit to another four years of hard work, but it was great to get back out on the water."
Drysdale has given himself until Christmas to decide if he will continue to row with the 2016 Olympics his major goal - or stumbling block.
While it appears he's leaning towards retirement, the 34-year-old was pleased with his victory in a field which also included two other London Olympic gold medal winners from New Zealand in Eric Murray and Joseph Sullivan, who finished fourth and fifth respectively.
"To be honest, I was pretty happy with the way I rowed - I got into a good rhythm," Drysdale said.
"It was a tough race, but when I did the Head of the Charles race [in Boston] six weeks ago I completely blew up in the latter stages, so this was nice.
"It was pretty tough. It was a real battle right throughout between Lassi, me and Nathan, right to the end. Lassi led out early, I managed to get through at about the halfway stage but never opened up a big enough gap to feel comfortable."
Cohen won gold in the men's double sculls in London in conjunction with Sullivan through a staggering sprint finish over the final 500 metres, and Drysdale admitted he was worried he may be chased down by his fellow international, who has been back in training with the Rowing NZ summer squad. "He's probably done more than any of us, so I was a bit worried about the final stages - I didn't know if I'd last enough to hold him off."
Drysdale said since London he'd been in a boat "about six times - so not at all, really".
"I wouldn't say reasonable shape - we're all in the same shape," he laughed.
Double London Olympic medallist Kim Crow dominated the women's race from the outset. Fairfax NZ
- The Marlborough Express