NZ's finest sporting moment in over 50 years

TONY SMITH IN LONDON
Last updated 00:26 04/08/2012
Bond and Murray
Iain McGregor/Fairfax NZ
PURE EMOTION: Eric Murray (left) celebrates as he and Hamish Bond receive their gold medals.

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OPINION: Our 'Lay Down Misere Pair' Hamish Bond and Eric Murray and Magnificent Mahe Drysdale have done New Zealand proud.

Watching a physically and emotionally shattered Drysdale cross the finish-line first ranks as our best moment since Murray Halberg brought in the second leg of the double to match Peter Snell in the Olimpico Stadium in Rome in 1960.

How could anyone not be moved by the sight of Drysdale choking back the tears at achieving his life's dream after sickness restricted him to bronze in Beijing.

And while we're still delirious, here's a question: What's the difference between the New Zealand Rowing team and the entire Australian Olympic squad?

The Kiwi oarspeople have more gold medals.

The Lake Dorney double - coupled with Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan's pairs triumph - means New Zealand has three gold medals to Australia's ONE.

Pass that big can of borax please.  No, on second thoughts, give us the silo.

Savour the moment New Zealand. While we can.  We've suffered enough Australian opprobrium over the years.

It won't be long before some wag from Woollongong dusts off the hoary old one-liner about Kiwis only being good at sports on their backsides.

All joking aside, how good is New Zealand rowing's London 2012 trifecta?

Are three Olympic Games rowing medals worth more than one Rugby World Cup title?

Will rowing replace rugby as our national sport?

That will never happen because rugby is so firmly entrenched in our sporting psyche. And, lest we forget, we're world champions again after a hiatus of 24 years.

But rowing is certainly our number one summer sport in terms of sustained excellence. 

Cricket may have the player numbers but it can't compete with the achievements of Mahe Drysdale, Eric Murray and Hamish Bond, Cohen and Sullivan and the Evers-Swindell twins and Rob Waddell before them.

Rowing is a 21st-century success story.

Since Waddell's sensational victory at the Sydney 2000 Games, Kiwi rowers have won six Olympic gold medals and countless world championships titles.

But today was surely the sport's greatest day - more memorable even than the golden day at Gifu in 2005 when Kiwi crews won four world crowns.

Rowing is the Olympics' supreme test of strength and endurance.  It's also a much under-rated spectacle.

Does sport get any more dramatic than the Kiwi pair's surge over the final 500m to win their gold medal?

The World Cup rugby final last October was tense and dramatic too but nothing like the suspense at Lake Dorney. 

They haven't seen such unbridled excitement here since the students at Eton threw their boaters in the air at term's end.

Every New Zealand sporting organisation struggling for traction should beat a path to Rowing New Zealand's door.

Sure, they've had the funding - success reaps that reward - but they've created a world-class programme from a relatively small demographic base and, in that regard, are a role model for other Kiwi codes.

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They had a golden era from 1968 to 1988 but a fallow period followed until Waddell broke a 12-year medal drought in Sydney.

Rowing's only going to get bigger and better in New Zealand. The Maadi Cup (perhaps it should be renamed the Mahedi Cup?) secondary schools regatta is New Zealand's best junior sporting festival. 

It breeds more Olympic and world champions than the New Zealand under-20 rugby team produces All Blacks.

It's only at Olympic time that we get to see rowing in its full glory. It's our four-yearly opportunity to appreciate the skills and quality of sportspeople who too often slip under the radar at home.

If we are serious about sport then rowing, equestrian, cycling, swimming, track and field and sailing, must be given due respect - and accorded much more than cursory coverage outside Olympic or Commonwealth Games years.

These athletes should be household names and we in the media have a role to play in that. There's more to Kiwi sport than ball games.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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