Our golden boy

21:45, Jan 01 2013
Southland Times photo
Southland Olympic gold medalist Nathan Cohen acknowledges the crowd during the tickertape parade held through the streets of Invercargill in August.

And our inaugural Southland Times Southlander Of The Year is - Nathan Cohen. In 2012 Cohen become the first Southlander ever to win an Olympic medal when he claimed gold in the double sculls in London. Logan Savory reflects with the rower on his golden year.

When rower Nathan Cohen was told during an interview in August he had achieved something quite remarkable and unique for Southland, he found himself both humbled and surprised.

The James Hargest College product teamed up with Picton's Joseph Sullivan to propel New Zealand to a gold medal in the men's double sculls at the London Olympics.

In doing so Cohen become the first Southlander ever to win an Olympic medal of any colour, until fellow rower Storm Uru joined him two days later with his bronze medal from the lightweight double sculls.

Cohen is the sole Southlander who can lay claim to winning a gold medal at any Olympic Games - a massive honour and one he wasn't aware he held until hours after that win on August 2.


''To me it was just a real honour to represent the province. I didn't know at the time that Southland hadn't actually won an Olympic medal. I was quite blown away I was the first one, it still hasn't quite sunk in. I just thought from such a proud sporting province there might have been a few before me. It is obviously a real honour to be the first one and I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be the last.''

Five months on from probably Southland's greatest sporting hour, Cohen says his life is only now regaining a sense of normality.

Cohen says he never expected, and never even found himself dreaming about, what would follow when he and Sullivan crossed that line in first place at Lake Eton Dorney in London.

''It's been very busy. Obviously a lot of school visits, a lot of engagements and functions, appearances, all that sort of stuff. Probably a lot of things, for me, I never really prepared for what might happen afterwards if we achieved everything we wanted to on the water in London. It's been a bit of a whirlwind experience since and it's all been great. Like I said, it's something you never quite expect, the people up and down the country have been great.''

One of Cohen's more memorable moments in the washup to his gold medal winning deeds was a return to where it all started for him - Invercargill.

Cohen and his fellow Southland Olympians took part in what was a moving street parade, which attracted thousands out into the Invercargill CBD.

''The parade was just amazing to be honest. When I first heard they were going to put a parade on, to be honest, I was a bit worried no one was going to show up and it would have been a bit embarrassing. You know the amount of support and the amount of people that come out, it was very humbling and extremely overwhelming and it's something you never expect.''

After a couple of months reflecting on where he wants to head now, Cohen has made a decision to surge on with his rowing and chase another gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

He feels he can still get better and doesn't want to leave the sport with that thought.

Cohen is back training but will grab the opportunity to take in something that has eluded him in the past 10 years - a proper Christmas and New Year break.

''To be honest I haven't had much of a life outside of rowing for the past 10 years, but I'm quite fortunate, I'm just about to head off on a Christmas break and have my first summer holiday in about 10 years. I don't have to be training on the water every day.

"In saying that, that will last two weeks and I'm back into training again.''

The Southland Times