Family, friends lap up Kiwis' 'Golden Hour'

TONY SMITH IN LONDON
Last updated 05:08 05/08/2012
Eric Murray
IAIN McGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
GOOD WORK DAD: Eric Murray kisses his one-year-old son Zac, who holds his Olympic gold medal won with Hamish Bond in the men's pair.

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

One-year-old Zac just wanted dad's attention.  The world had had its turn at Lake Dorney.

The golden orb around Eric's neck looked like a giant gingernut.  So it was time for some dunking. Zac popped it in Murray senior's mouth, through the thicket of facial hair his father says makes him look more "intimidating''. He also claims he keeps it because wife Jackie doesn't like him "clean shaven''.

Murray's features softened as he scooped up his son, a world-class athlete at the zenith of his career putting first things first.

Family and friends had to wait long enough to embrace New Zealand rowing's golden trio.  Almost three hours after his victory, Juliette Haigh got to tell partner Mahe Drysdale she'd been too nervous to watch most of his race till the final, fateful strokes.

Medal ceremonies, media commitments and drug testing 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.

Mahe managed to survive six minutes or so of physical torture on the water, but how was it for mum on terra firma?  "I was fine until the last 300 metres, then I was a total disaster,'' she said. "Back to normal, really,'' second son, Peter, interjected.

"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 to see it on 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.

"Just as many were rooting for Murray and Bond too, including Bond's girlfriend Lizzie Travis, who hugged Haigh at the Dorney denoument.

Thirty thousand fans crammed on to the lakesides. The sky was broody and moody.  Hopes were high New Zealand could become the first nation to win three gold medals at a single Olympic regatta.

Bond and Murray were first out of the blocks and soon ran down a feisty French crew to cruise home to win by more than five seconds.

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"You beauty'', shouted Murray, the earthier of the duo, as he pumped the air with upraised fists. Bond, in the bow seat, clapped his hands and then collapsed back towards his rowing partner.

Drysdale had a bigger battle on his hands to stave off Czech Republic silver medallist Ondrej Synek.  His relief was obvious as he thrust his left hand skywards and whacked the water with his right.

Visions of Beijing 2008, when an ill Drysdale collapsed getting out of his boat, shimmered for a second when he lay prone on the pontoon, this time through utter exhaustion.

An official scurried away to fetch a bottle of water and Drysdale was soon on his feet again _ until after the medal ceremony. The last bars of "God Defend New Zealand'' had been barely aired before Synek and bronze medallist Alan Campbell hoisted their Kiwi conqueror on their shoulders.

"I'd rather them lifting Mahe, then him trying to lift someone in Beijing; I thought that was going to end in tears,'' joked New Zealand chef de mission Dave Currie.  Bronze medallist Campbell quipped his gold medallist friend was "bloody heavy''.

For Currie,  the Dorney Double was "a special'' hour.  He equated it to Peter Snell and Murray Halberg's twin track triumphs at Rome in 1960.

That sentiment was shared by black-clad fans pouring across the bridge.

Hamilton's Kelvin Williams led a platoon, wearing a steel World War II-style hat topped by a stuffed Kiwi toy. His son Tyson rows in the New Zealand coxless four. Williams reckoned the three gold medals in London will herald a bright future for the sport.

So did some of the New Zealand's past rowing greats and stalwart servants, including 1984 coxless four gold medallist Conrad Robertson (now chairman of selectors), Rowing New Zealand chairman Ivan Sutherland, of Blenheim, and Canterbury rowing stalwart John Wylie.

They all gathered to honour the new champions.  The families stayed to toast their success.

There was a collective cry from the Kiwis when the bar assistant shouted "last orders please''. But Mahe's mum reckoned "we might just party for the rest of the Olympics.''

The medal men had just started wetting their whistles. But more media duties beckoned at a quiet cafe in bucolic Berkshire.

Before long, the champions were chewing barbecued burgers and as they reclined on lush lawns or a seat "Reserved for shade lovers or people of a certain age''.

Murray had hinted earlier 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 and celebrate, because I think we deserve it a little bit.''

Which brings to mind that brewery slogan:  "I can scull like Bond and Murray".  Yeah, right.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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