Smoke on the water from hot Kiwi rowers

Last updated 05:00 30/07/2012
Hamish Bond and Eric Murray
IAIN McGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
STAR PAIR: Eric Murray and Hamish Bond on their way to a new world's best time on day one of the rowing regatta of the London Olympics at Eton-Dorney.

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It was a stunning statement that left spectators and experts in awe. Marc Hinton reports on a pair whose greatest challenge is now overwhelming gold medal expectation. 

For the past four years the legend of the Kiwi pair has been building incrementally. On a glorious Saturday at Eton Dorney as the first oars were dipped into the waters of the London 2012 Olympic regatta, it took a step closer to folklore territory.

So good are this perfect, peerless pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, that in the space of a little over six minutes in the opening heat of three, they effectively rendered Wednesday's semifinals and Friday's final all but a fait accompli.

For all intents and purposes they are the lone nags in a one-horse race. They are Usain Bolt, and their competitors Gerry Brownlee. They are gold medallists in all but name.

''It's impressive,'' marvelled veteran Kiwi single-sculler Mahe Drysdale when asked his opinion of the sizzling 6m 08.50s time set by the pair which sliced almost six full seconds off the previous world record which had stood for a decade. The ridiculous thing was that so easy did Bond and Murray do it, they gave a pretty good impression of having a fair bit up their sleeve.

“It probably doesn't surprise me a huge amount, seeing what they've done in training,” continued Drysdale, who is adamant there are spinoffs for the entire Kiwi squad. “It's a great confidence boost to our team because we know how far behind we are from them and if they can go six seconds under the world record it means we should be pretty close.

"That's a really good thing from a whole team point of view.”

Bond and Murray were saying all the right things after their smoke-on-the-water display, pointing out that no medals were being handed out yet, and that all they'd done was take the first step of three they must this week. Their blinkers were on, their focus fixed but the sight of Murray - all 1.95m and 100kg of him - pumping his fist at the end of their heat was all the indication needed about how they viewed the marker they'd just laid down.

They understood the psychological impact of the blow they had landed. They crushed a quality French pair by nine seconds; heat three winners Great Britain would have been feeling pretty good about themselves till they saw they still have eight seconds to make up on the flying Kiwis.

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The Canadian pair of David Calder and Scott Frandsen won the second heat in a comparative dawdle of 6:23, and later had to fight off suggestions this event was all over red rover.

''It's definitely impressive. But we're not racing times. We're racing them,'' said Frandsen.

The truth of the matter is that Bond and Murray are as close to unbeatable as you get in this sport.

They have not lost a race in the four years they have been together and have tucked 15 straight major regattas under their belts along the way. They have forced their greatest rivals to jump ship and now so intimidate the rest of the pretenders they only need say “boo” to have them jumping out of their seats.

Of course this is sport, so nothing is guaranteed. The unthinkable can happen. These guys know that and it will keep their eyes on the ball.

But to ponder them coming undone by their rivals' prowess with their first Olympic gold so close takes a vivid imagination.

Drysdale, on the other hand, seems destined to work somewhat harder for that elusive medal to complement the five world championships sitting on his sideboard.

He was impressive as the six single scull heats played out but so were a heap of others. There's still a quarterfinal, semi and final to negotiate. He said times at this stage mean nothing but as he breezed to the second slowest heat win of the day, it seemed like his challengers were gathering.

He said there was some foxing going on through these early rounds - ''You want to win, but you don't want to use everything up,'' - and that's why he wasn't reading too much into the Games record time by Belgian Tim Maeyens. ''You'll find most of the top guys will be cruising,” he added, knowingly.

The good news is Drysdale is feeling great. ''Everything's good, the back, the shoulder, the health, it's all 100,'' said the man cruelly denied gold in 2008 by illness.

One gold seems assured.

Drysdale seems in a mood to be inspired to add to that tally.

- Stuff

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