Rob Waddell has unofficially set a world record for a 5km 'erg' test, becoming the first man ever to dip under the 15-minute barrier on the stationary rowing machine, the Sunday Star-Times can reveal.
A time of 14.58.03 was a clear demonstration that the former Olympic gold medallist's rowing comeback is on course, but the man sitting in the single scull seat, three-time world champion Mahe Drysdale, then showed his own world-class ability, slashing seven seconds off his personal best to time 15:11, just 36 hours after he had stepped off a plane from England.
The huge rivalry between Waddell and Drysdale and the presence of several other very good scullers in the national squad may even spur Rowing New Zealand into a remarkable decision to create a new quadruple scull and send them to a last-gasp Olympic qualifying regatta to give themselves every option of taking them all to Beijing.
The New Zealand rowing crews complete plenty of 5km tests but Waddell's time will not be counted as a record because it was not an official test. However, internet rowing forums have been buzzing about his effort.
Rowing New Zealand high performance manager Andrew Matheson said: "Our testing results remain confidential, however all of the athletes are performing exceptionally well and they are where we want them to be right now."
Drysdale and Waddell were due race each other for the first time this morning in the KR1 Regatta at Lake Karapiro, near Cambridge.
The event is used by national crews as a training event but has attracted unprecedented interest this year because of Waddell's presence.
In a remarkably strong single sculls field, Waddell won his heat early yesterday morning by a length from Nathan Cohen. Drysdale won his ahead of fours world champion Eric Murray. Waddell, Drysdale, Murray, Cohen, under-23 lightweight world champion Storm Uru and Matthew Trott make up a six-boat final this morning.
Drysdale and Waddell will then, unusually, join Cohen and Trott in a quad to race against several eights, including the national squad. If they go well, RNZ could consider sending their four best scullers to qualify the boat for Beijing, knowing that they have free rein to rework the crew before the Olympics as rules state it is the boat, not the crew, that qualifies.
Countries are allowed just one single sculler at the Olympics. Until recently Drysdale looked assured of that spot for New Zealand.
But the man whose rowing career was inspired by Waddell, was upbeat last night about the new challenge he faces in the race to Beijing. "It is pretty exciting for me to get the opportunity to race him," he told the Star-Times. "It is probably the two best single scullers we have ever produced in New Zealand. It was something I always wanted an oportunity at, and never thought it would happen, so it is quite exciting."
Asked about Waddell's progress, Drysdale said: "He seems to be going well: I suppose tomorrow is going to be the first indication of where he is. What people do in the erg doesn't mean too much: it is what they do in the water that counts. We will get an idea tomorrow where we both are."
The two have had some conversations, mainly jokes about the disproportionate interest in this usually-ignored regatta, but Drysdale maintained he had no idea of which boat Waddell was aspiring to row in at Beijing.
Waddell, meanwhile, maintained a media ban he has broken only once, in a statement to the Star-Times explaining why he was taking a temporary break from yachting to return to rowing.
- Sunday Star Times
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