Waddell is a perfect choice

JOSEPH ROMANOS
Last updated 09:42 17/12/2012

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Rob Waddell brings impressive credentials to his new role as chef de mission of the New Zealand Olympic and Commonwealth Games teams.

He is primarily a champion sportsman and I liked how he described his three Olympic experiences, in 1996, 2000 and 2008: a wide-eyed first-timer, a gold medallist and an athlete struggling to meet expectations.

Waddell was just 21 when he overcame an irregular heartbeat problem to finish seventh in the single sculls at Atlanta in 1996.

By 2000 he was a double world champion. He handled the mantle of favourite superbly to win the gold medal in style in Sydney.

After a long absence he returned to top-class rowing in 2008 and nearly tipped Mahe Drysdale out of the single sculls seat, incredible considering Drysdale was a multiple world champion and Waddell had been away from the sport for so many years.

Instead Waddell and Nathan Cohen formed a rather odd-looking double sculls team and at the Beijing Olympics finished a disappointing fourth.

Waddell, previously extremely obliging, was a trifle stand-offish in 2008, but that was perhaps understandable - he was a prime media target and was under unusual pressure. Generally he's been a credit to sport.

Though he claimed world single sculls titles in 1998 and 1999, he was a narrow winner of the Halberg Award each time, edging out Barbara Kendall on one occasion and Blyth Tait on the other.

Any suggestion of ill-feeling about the vote result was swept away by his impressive acceptance speeches. That shouldn't have been surprising - even back at King's College Waddell was an accomplished public speaker. He has many other attributes.

Waddell is an all-round sportsman, who has been a rep rugby player, a black belt in judo and a long-serving grinder for Team New Zealand. He is a bright bloke who earned a bachelor of management studies with honours, majoring in Japanese and marketing. He runs a big family business and has had a successful involvement with the Home of Cycling Trust.

Waddell has big boots to fill, because he follows Dave Currie into the chef de mission role, and Currie was outstanding. (In passing, there has been ridiculous recent comment about Currie not being supportive enough of his athletes, perhaps sparked by bizarre comments shot putter Valerie Adams has made. Such criticism is incorrect - Currie was tremendous in the way he put the athletes first.)

Waddell is our 18th chef de mission, and some of them have been mediocre at best.

The first, Arthur Porritt, was in charge in 1924, 28 and 36 and was excellent. But too often the job was a reward for time served and the chef de mission seemed to be on some sort of royal tour, and unwilling to get his hands dirty.

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Peter Miskimmin, Mike Stanley and Kereyn Smith would all have made good chefs de mission, but they have important jobs in sport at present. Champion cyclist Sarah Ulmer would have been brilliant, too, but she's busy with a baby daughter.

Waddell is of the same sort of calibre and the New Zealand team at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics will surely be grateful for his presence.

- The Marlborough Express

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