Waddell inspires Kiwi double scullers to gold

MARC HINTON IN LONDON
Last updated 05:00 04/08/2012

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Twelve years ago in Sydney Rob Waddell inspired a couple of pups from the South Island to take their rowing seriously.

The culmination of that produced New Zealand's first gold medal of the London Olympics on a memorable sixth day of the games at Eton Dorney. Southland-raised, Christchurch-born Nathan Cohen combined with the pride of Picton, Joseph Sullivan, to produce the row of their lives in the final of the double sculls.

What resulted was one of those moments that will go down in Kiwi sporting folklore. The New Zealanders looked out of the equation, last at the first mark, fifth after a kilometre and still fourth with a measly 500m to go. But then Cohen said 'Yip" and Sullivan responded with a rating off the charts as the Kiwi double put their boat in overdrive.

Within minutes they had gold medals draped round their necks and God Defend New Zealand was ringing out around Lake Dorney. And Cohen was thinking back to the moment 12 years ago when he watched Waddell scull to gold in Sydney and figured, "I'll have a bit of that".

"At the time I was 14, and I'd just started rowing," reflected Cohen, now 26 and the skipper of a double scull that has a finishing sprint like a jet-boat.  "I've always been a massive sport follower and I still remember him with 500 to go when he rowed thru Xeno Muller and I thought that was the coolest thing I'd ever seen.

"I thought it couldn't get any better than that. It's a bit surreal to think 12 years later the same thing has happened, though probably we didn't do it in quite the same style as he did."

Waddell would be the first to put that right. There was nothing but style about the manner the Kiwi double scythed through the field to produce New Zealand's first golden moment of the London Games. It won't be the last, but it's hard to imagine anything being more memorable, more pulsating.

Cohen, educated at James Hargest, now based in Cambridge, and with his family in Christchurch, said he'd taken elements off all of the great athletes he'd rowed with. When he was joined by Waddell for the double in Beijing it was a "pinch-me" moment, but they would fail to deliver the medal their pedigree promised.

But he refused to label this victory "redemption" for their Beijing misfire. "If it wasn't for Rob, and wasn't for Mahe or Hamish or Eric, and the other members of our great team, we wouldn't be here," said Cohen. "They've all had such a massive influence on my career.

"Rob inspired me to get into rowing -- seeing his Olympic gold in Sydney made me love sport so much. I learned a lot from my experience in Beijing and Rob has had a big influence on both Joseph and I through our careers. We both looked up to him and he passed on a lot of knowledge.

"From that we learned how we wanted to perform on the big day, and a lot of training ethic. These last couple of days we stayed pretty relaxed and it was so valuable having that experience, just knowing it is all about putting out the best performance we can.

"We kept calm, kept the boat relaxed and waited for the moment. And when it came -- you only get one, probably, in a lifetime -- you have to make the most of it."

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Cohen was surprised to hear he had become Southland's first Olympic medallist, but said that was an honour he would treasure, among others.

But he would not confirm a defence of the title at this stage of things, even though he, at 26, and Sullivan, 25, have age on their side. "We're just going to enjoy this moment as much as we can. You don't get to win an Olympic gold medal every day, and 99.9 per cent of people that want one probably don't get one. What happens next will take care of itself in due course."

But make no mistake. New Zealand has a new special sporting duo, with possibly a little more everyday about them than the impossibly perfect Bond and Murray. They're old mates and rivals, and talk about a "bond" and a "trust" they share.

Once they were inspired. Now they are the inspirers.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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