Nervy start but a golden finish for Drysdale

MARC HINTON IN LONDON
Last updated 09:34 04/08/2012

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Mahe Drysdale may look like a cool customer but he was so nervous ahead of his scull for Olympic gold at Eton Dorney yesterday that he couldn't hold down his breakfast.

The 33-year-old Tauranga-schooled, Cambridge-based marvel revealed after his magnificent row for single sculls gold at Dorney Lake that nerves had threatened to overwhelm him as he began to ponder the significance of a moment that was all about personal redemption, and the missing entry on his bulging CV.

"Two hours before the race I was throwing up and it is not a nice feeling," he said out at Eton Dorney at the end of a remarkable day for New Zealand rowing, and indeed New Zealand sport.

With Drysdale and the Kiwi pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray both striking gold within 50 minutes of one another, it recalled the 'Golden Hour' from Rome in 1960 when Peter Snell and Murray Halberg did the same on the track.

Not only that but the double strike lifted New Zealand's rowing tally to an historic three golds and a bronze from these Games, and makes it the equal most successful sport in Olympic history with nine gold medals.

But Drysdale, the five-time world champion, found himself almost overwhelmed by the occasion when he arrived at the course. 

"It was one of the worst moments of my life and it isn't until you get to the starting blocks and the race begins, that it's probably the best moment of the day. As soon as that happened all that nervous energy disappears and you can get on with the race."

Given Drysdale's history, he could have been forgiven for a feeling of dread as his stomach refused to settle.

In Beijing, he had been struck down by a stomach bug that saw him needing IV fluids to line up for the final, and slumped in a vomiting heap at the end of a brave scull for the bronze.

He had spoken earlier in the week of being most worried about the semi and how he would be relaxed for the final. But this was a different sort of sick. One he had experienced recently.

"This year at the national champs on the morning of the final I was driving down and had to pull over and have a spew. It was just nerves I guess. Maybe it's as I get older there's more expectation.

"I knew this was a big moment in my career and you've got to perform. It's not a nice place to be, but hopefully now I've got an Olympic gold medal I can just relax. Over the last couple of days it sort of dawned on me I'd failed to achieve what I wanted to in Beijing and I was wishing I had won the gold medal there as it would have made things a lot easier."

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In the end the nerves didn't matter. Drysdale sculled a superb race to pull clear of Czech rival Ondrej Synek between the halfway and 1500m mark, and had enough in the tank - just - to make one further surge inside the last quarter to seal the deal.

Drysdale also used some advice from Halberg, who had spoken to the rowing squad back in 2004, to good effect as he worked towards the defining moment of his career.

"Even though I was feeling pretty crap this morning I tried to walk around the boat park looking pretty confident and ready to go. I actually walked past Ondrej's room and saw him with his head down and realised he was in a very similar situation to me.

"I remember one of the things Murray said to us was about when he was sitting in the warm-up room [with the other athletes]. He said I've just got to beat 12 scared men, and that was some pretty good advice, because you're going through the ringer and you know all your competitors are probably doing a similar thing."

Drysdale's coach Dick Tonks had given him his usual crisp advice pre-race.

"He just told me to get in front and hold him off," said the big sculler. The "him" was Synek whom the Kiwi knew was the only rival capable of going with him if he was at his best.

Luckily he was close enough to that mark to secure a defining victory.

He shrugged off the nerves, the shoulder injury from his Munich bike accident that had bothered him in the buildup, he shrugged off a determined scull from Synek, and he went out and performed like we all expected him to.

"It is a dream completed," added Drysdale who was slumped on the pontoon at the finish as his achievement, and the toll of the race, dawned on him simultaneously.

"I had a dream 12 years ago I wanted to be an Olympic gold medallist. It has been a tough road and it has taken me three Olympics to get it but it just shows you can achieve your dream if you work your butt off."

- Fairfax Media

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