Little guys, big engines. And a golden outcome.
On a memorable day at Dorney Lake yesterday, Kiwi double scullers Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan mowed the field down over the last 500m to deliver New Zealand' first gold medal of the Olympic Games.
It was a fabulous display by the gritty New Zealanders – both hailing from the Mainland – as they backed their finishing power and timed their late run to perfection to send the big contingent of Kiwi supporters at the purpose-built rowing venue into party mode. More golds may be to follow from their squadmates, but even Mahe Drysdale and the perfect pair may struggle to match this for drama.
As they stood, a short time later, on the podium at Eton Dorney, those gleaming gold medals having just been draped round their necks, a clear picture started to emerge. The Kiwis were dwarfed by the Italian and Slovenian crews either side of them, demonstrating vividly that it' not the size of the dog in the fight that matters, but the size of the fight in the dog.
Later Cohen, Christchurch-born, but raised in Southland, and Sullivan, the pride of Picton, would reveal that it was their shorter stature that ended up being their competitive advantage. That, and the big engines that drove them both to a finish that exhausted every last ounce of energy they had to give.
“I think there' just that toughness within our boat of just wanting to be the best we possibly can be,” said Cohen when asked to define the qualities that enabled them to achieve their Olympic dream.
“There' some big guys out there and that' why we can’t keep up out of the start. We do try, and if anything our first 1000 [metres] is harder than our second.
“It' not so much worrying about the size aspect, but understanding what our strengths are, and our strengths are impulse speed and ability to really change it up in that last 500.
"So it' about just focusing on our first 1000 to get into a position to use our strengths.
“Our weakness has always been out start and we work a lot more on that than what we do our last 500. Today it all came together in the right way.”
Added Sullivan: “We’re not the biggest guys in the world and I think we’ve kinda shown today anyone can do big things, you don’t have to be built for it. You’ve just got to have the heart and the head to push hard and get through.”
Because they’re shorter, the Kiwi double are able to lift their stroke rating more effectively when Cohen yells his trademark “Go”, or as was the case yesterday, “Yip”, and the sprint to the line commences.
It' like they have another gear to go to – either that or a secret outboard hidden somewhere – because, just when their rivals are starting to feel the pinch, they have a closing speed no one can match.
Coach Calvin Ferguson said it' all been about turning a disadvantage into an advantage.
“You saw them on the podium, they’re not very big, they can’t row long and strong like the other guys. Their best quality is the sprint for them, but they’ve got to be in a position to do that.
“Some people might say they don’t work hard enough early in the race, but if they did they might not be at the line first.
"We’ve worked with how they are naturally and developed that natural rhythm, natural style.
“It' a bit rough round the edges, but hey, it works.”
The 26-year-old Cohen, who looked a cool customer, even while Sullivan was clambering around the shell congratulating his mate, admitted he was almost overwhelmed by what he’d achieved.
He’d tasted the Games in 2008, when he and his hero, the legendary Rob Waddell, finished outside the medals.
Now, thanks to a sizzling last quarter of 1.33 – four seconds faster than the next best finish – he' emulated the man who inspired him to row.
“Words can’t describe it. It' that deep feeling of knowing you’ve done something that can’t be taken away. It' something you’ve always wanted, always dreamed of and in the back of your mind always believed, at your absolute best, you might have had a chance. Then to have it happen, you know you can sleep easy and that' what its going to be like for me.”
But first there was a party to attend. Parents, uncles, aunties, brothers and sisters of both golden boys were on hand. There was a race of a lifetime to relive, over, and over, and over again.
- © Fairfax NZ News