Olympic haul puts a smile on nation's face

GOLD: Eric Murray and teammate Hamish Bond, the "Rare Kiwi Pair''.
GOLD: Eric Murray and teammate Hamish Bond, the "Rare Kiwi Pair''.

In a golden hour for New Zealand not seen since Rome in 1960, when Peter Snell and Murray Halberg both won gold, our rowers left the world in their wake. Tony Smith was there to see it.

Young Zac Murray took one look at dad's Olympic Games gold medal and tried to feed it to his father.

The whole rowing world was honouring Eric Murray and teammate Hamish Bond, the "Rare Kiwi Pair'', new Olympic champions and world record breaking crew of the London 2012 regatta.

But one-year-old Zac just wanted his dad's attention. The world had had its turn at Eton Dorney.

The golden orb around Eric's neck looked like a giant gingernut.  So it was time for some dunking. Zac popped it in dad's mouth, through the thicket of facial hair his father says makes him look more "intimidating'', though his face softens when he holds his son.

Murray had hinted earlier that a few beers might be sunk back at Kiwi House in the city. "I guess we don't want to go out and get plastered, we'll just take it all in and celebrate, because I think we deserve it a little bit.''

Family and friends had a long wait to embrace New Zealand rowing's golden trio.

Almost three hours after Mahe Drysdale's single scull victory, his partner Juliette Haigh, herself a bronze medal winner last week in the women's pair with Rebecca Scown, got to tell him she'd been too nervous to watch most of his race until the final, fateful strokes.

Medal ceremonies, media interviews and drug tests kept Murray, Bond and Drysdale on the hop.

Drysdale's mum, Robin Owens, had to holler to get his attention as he faced another press posse.  She'd come down from the top of the towering stands to celebrate her son's success.

How was it for mum?  "I was fine until the last 300 metres, then I was a total disaster. The last 300 metres, I just collapsed... I just totally cracked and cried,'' Owens said.

"I haven't seen the end of the race, I haven't seen Mahe's face, I'm going to have watch the video.''

The Drysale support group included Haigh and her family, Owens, Mahe's brother Peter, his father Alan, oodles of aunts and uncles and countless cousins.

Drysdale's gold meant he and Haigh became the first couple to win medals at the same Olympic Games in the same sport.

"I didn't think I would react this way, but I couldn't watch the race and I cried for most it,'' said Haigh, who turned 30 yesterday.

"I found out today what it was like to be a spectator and watch it from the other side. It's incredibly nerve-wracking. It's much better being out there, being the one doing it.''

Drysdale said it was satisfying to taste success together. "We've been a pretty successful partnership. I feel very fortunate that I met Juliette through rowing.''

Haigh added:  "I'm just so happy for him, it's a sense of relief, really. I know how much he wanted this, and the obstacles he's overcome."

Sunday Star Times