Partner's medal puts pressure on Drysdale

JONATHAN MILLMOW AND MARC HINTON IN LONDON
Last updated 13:00 02/08/2012
Juliette Haigh and Mahe Drysdale.
Fairfax NZ/Gettys Images
MEDAL MATES: Real-life partners and New Zealand rowing team-mates Juliette Haigh (left) and Mahe Drysdale.

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Mahe Drysdale was already feeling the heat, but now his partner has a bronze under her belt there's extra pressure on him to bring home an Olympic rowing medal.

Having just embraced his long time partner Juliette Haigh for her bronze medal row in the women's pairs, Drysdale joked there was now even more pressure on him to perform in the single sculls final.

"I've got to try and keep the bragging rights at home so I've got to go and get another medal, otherwise I'm in trouble," he said.

Drysdale, 32, and Haigh, 29, live together on a lifestyle block in Cambridge. They have been together over four years and take a keen interest in each other's fortunes.

With her bronze medal dangling around her neck, Haigh admitted she was on edge ahead of Drysdale's final, which is shaping as the most anticipated rowing race in recent memory.

"I'll be honest, it makes me very nervous, and sometimes I can't even watch," Haigh said.

"It is very stressful being a spectator, maybe even more so than when you're out there yourself. I will be very nervous, but excited as well, to see him do well."

Drysdale, who seems remarkably calm about his shot at rowing redemption, described Haigh as "a great athlete"

"You might say I'm the star, but she still has three world champion medals and now an Olympic bronze so I'm only a couple of world titles (5) ahead of her.

"When you look at her, a lot of people underrate her because of her size and don't think she is going to make great rower, but she has proved time and again she is a fighter and can get through issues.

"They (Haigh and her pairs partner Rebecca Scown) haven't had a great buildup here and they have still come through with a bronze medal."

Drysdale said he offered words of comfort to Haigh after the women's pair were below par in their heat on Sunday.

"We discuss things," Drysdale said.

"They were pretty confident they hadn't had a good race and there was something to improve on so it was just a few words of support and that I believed in them."

Drysdale, meanwhile, believes the hard won has been done after convincingly winning a semifinal that had a likely looking field including the defending Olympic champion Olaf Tufte, in-form Swede Lassi Karonen, German Marcel Hacker and a dangerous Cuban by the name of Angel Fournier Rodriguez.

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"For me the semis are the hardest race and when I saw the draw I was nervous," said Drysdale after a performance that made light of his anxiety.

"Some of the guys are capable of doing extremely good things. So now I can relax for the final."

Really? Relax for a race that many view as his one shot at redemption following the dramas of his Beijing bronze.

But Drysdale's mindset seems coolly steadfast. He's cleared the water jump, the remaining hurdles he should take in his stride.

Karonen certainly tested the big Kiwi early when he bolted out of the blocks. But Drysdale's response was indication he's in the form of his life. Slowly but surely he hauled him in, then put the death grip on over the third quarter as he eased to victory by over a second and a-half.

"When I saw the draw I was a little worried what could happen, especially after  yesterday men's double where there were some unexpected results," he said..

"My nightmare was getting to 500m to go and seeing the field spread across the lake, knowing that your Olympic dreams were on the line. I pretty much executed the plan I wanted and it was good to have Karonen lead me out. After 500m I was feeling comfortable things wouldn't go to my nightmare situation."

Still, it won't be all cheese and crackers in tomorrow night's final. Over in the other semi dangerous Czech Ondrej Synek was doing something pretty similar with his field.

"He looked pretty impressive," nodded Drysdale. "He dominated through the middle of the race and I think he has improved as the year has gone on so he will be tough."

Or as tough as the easy part can be.

- Stuff

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