Dejection follows Olympic glory for Kiwi pair

IAN ANDERSON
Last updated 10:13 28/08/2013

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When rowers Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan stood on the Olympic podium in London, they thought nothing could be better.

What they didn't realise was how much worse things would get.

Less than 13 months after the Kiwi duo won gold in memorable circumstances, their rowing careers have suffered notable setbacks.

Cohen was forced to pull out of this week's world championships in Chungju, South Korea, with a recurrence of a heart condition that first flared earlier this year.

The 27-year-old again struck problems with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) in the men's quad sculls heat on Sunday. He's optimistic it won't keep him out of a boat for long, being a condition which only flares up occasionally when racing.

The condition causes the heart to go out of rhythm.

"It feels like your oxygen is running out, you lose power and become weaker, like you're dragging something behind the boat," Cohen said.

That's a far cry from Cohen and Sullivan dragging off their rivals in the last 500 metres of their Olympic final - a stunning display which later saw them win the "Favourite Sporting Moment" title, voted for by the public, at the 2012 Halberg Awards.

Cohen switched from the gold-medal winning double sculls boat from London to the quad, forming a crew with young team-mates Fergus Fauvel, Nathan Flannery and younger brother Hayden Cohen. The boat is seen by Rowing New Zealand as a long-term project, with eyes on building a highly competitive unit to contest the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

This season, the quartet have been off the pace of the leading boats. They were third in the B final at the World Cup regatta at Eton Dorney - the site of Cohen's Olympic triumph - and then fifth in the B final at the final World Cup event of the season at Lucerne last month.

With Karl Manson taking Cohen's seat in the boat yesterday the quad were fifth of five crews in their repechage, missing out on the semifinals.

The New Zealand men's four will also contest a C final after being fifth in their repechage while the Kiwi women's quad just missed a place in the A final when third behind Poland and the US in their repechage.

Cohen said his aimas now to get his heart problem sorted so he can continue to work towards Rio.

Ironically, Cohen's 2008 Olympic partnership in the double sculls also came about through heart problems - for his crewmate.

Rob Waddell missed out on the New Zealand men's single scull berth for Beijing when beaten in the final of a best-of-three match race against Mahe Drysdale that saw Waddell way off the pace due to an episode of atrial fibrillation.

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He eventually gained a place alongside Cohen in the double, forcing out Cohen's regular partner Matthew Trott. But the duo never found top form and missed out on the medals in Beijing when finishing fourth in the final.

Cohen said Waddell's condition - which the 2000 Olympics single sculls gold medallist and current member of Team New Zealand at the America's Cup had surgery to fix in 2009 - affected the heart differently but produced a similar physical reaction.

Sullivan's year started late and finished early.

The 26-year-old had an extended break after the Olympics and was left out of Rowing NZ's squad that contested the opening World Cup regatta in Sydney in March, with the selection panel ruling Sullivan wasn't in good enough shape.

He admitted his rejection was hard to swallow and pondered quitting the sport before returning to the fold for the next two World Cup events, racing in the single sculls with Mahe Drysdale yet to be available following his lengthy post-London layoff.

But Sullivan never found form by himself. He was fifth in the B final at Eton Dorney and then a woeful 15th overall (third in the C final) at Lucerne.

He then ruled himself out of the world champs, opting to take more time off with an eye to resuming training later this year with Rio also his long-term goal.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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