Mahe Drysdale may yet go down to Rio 2016

MEMORABLE MOMENT: Kiwi rowing legend Mahe Drysdale with his Olympic gold medal.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: Kiwi rowing legend Mahe Drysdale with his Olympic gold medal.

Kiwi rowing legend Mahe Drysdale may defend his Olympic title in Rio - but not before dipping his oar into some different sporting waters.

Drysdale single-sculled his way to a massive dose of redemption at Dorney Lake on day seven of the Games, playing his part in a new "Golden Hour" that recalled the memorable feats of Peter Snell and Murray Halberg on the track in Rome in 1960.

In an historic double just 40 minutes apart, first the perfect pair of Eric Murray and Hamish Bond powered to gold to complete an unbeaten four years in the two-man boat, then Drysdale secured the elusive Olympic single sculls crown to add to his five world titles.

Murray and Bond were awe-inspiring in their domination, but it was Drysdale's victory that was the most dramatic and emotional. At the end of a sapping duel against Czech rival Ondrej Synek, he was left spent and overcome by emotions as it dawned on him that he had finally achieved his Olympic dream.

Later the 2.01m 33-year-old strongly hinted that he may row on for a fourth Games, though he indicated he was likely to take a year out from the top level of the sport that could see him take on an ironman or the iconic coast-to-coast multisport race.

Drysdale confirmed he would be taking a few months off, though would still row a few events because he wanted to “give back” to a sport that had given him so much. Over that time he would sit down with partner, bronze medal-winning Kiwi team colleague Juliette Haigh, and they would make a decision on both their sporting futures.

“I have thought about it a little bit, and I'd say it's unlikely I'll be at the world champs next year,” said the champion sculler. “But there's a good probability I'll be in Rio in four years' time. I've always said the Olympics is the pinnacle, so any decision I make is going to be a four-year decision and not for one or two years.

“Have I achieved everything I want to? Is there still that burning desire? That's what I'll work out over the next few weeks and months. There's a bigger decision as well. Is the single where I want to be, or will we look at something else or a different challenge.

"It's exciting, there are a lot of things I want to do next year, and I want to keep it a possibility I'll keep rowing.”

That means Drysdale will need to keep his fitness levels up. And that could mean the lean, mean rowing machine getting off his butt in the name of competition.

“I want to keep fit so I've got to find some challenges to push me next year. Things like ironman, or the coast-to-coast, might be what I go and attack just to show me how to suffer for hours and hours on end and then seven minutes might not seem so bad.”

It's going to be interesting to see whether Olympic redemption changes Drysdale's perspective. With that elusive gold medal - achieved at his third attempt - to go with his five world titles, his legacy is now assured. He is up there with the Evers-Swindell twins, Rob Waddell and Bond and Murray as icons of his sport.

It may be difficult to go another four years without that carrot dangling.

Anyway, now is not the time to make that decision. Friday at Eton Dorney will go down in Kiwi sporting folklore but it was also an emotional rollercoaster for Drysdale.

He was so nervous when he arrived at the venue he threw up. But he gathered himself in time. He summoned the image of the men's double-sculls carving through for the opening gold a day earlier.

When he was alighting his boat to head down to the start line, he was able to watch Bond and Murray destroying the men's pair field in typically aggressive fashion. He knew it was on him now. It was his opportunity, his destiny to seize.

“Having those two crews go before me, watching that double yesterday and the pair just as I was getting on the water, it's quite inspiring. I know I've done exactly the same as what they've done. I train with the men's pair, I know exactly where I stand.

"It lifts you to another level because you want to go and achieve, to be able to join that. It's pretty incredible and something I'm very proud of.

“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 showed you can achieve your dream if you work your butt off.”

Sunday Star Times