Kiwi gold medallists get new cars
The wheels turn quickly. In this case very quickly, with every gold medal winner from New Zealand's record-breaking Olympic rowing squad handed the keys to a brand new Audi thanks to an initiative aimed to give the superstars an incentive to stay in the sport.
At a special function with athletes, family, friends, officials and sponsors at Rowing New Zealand's day house in the Berkshire countryside, it was announced that the three gold medal crews in London - single sculler Mahe Drysdale, perfect pair Eric Murray and Hamish Bond, and double scullers Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan - would all receive new Audis for the next two years, in an initiative spurred by long-term sponsor Banklink through Giltrap Motors.
But here's the thing - the reward comes with a line of fine print. If the rowers commit to keep rowing through until the 2016 Rio Olympics, they get to keep the cars for the next four years.
It's a smart move, which Rowing NZ chairman Ivan Sutherland, an Olympic bronze medallist and former world champion, said had come entirely at their sponsor's initiative. But he hopes it will help keep veteran performers such as Drysdale and Murray in the sport.
“We were confident they would stay involved anyhow; they're fantastic athletes and passionate about the sport of rowing,” Sutherland said.
“They're amongst the world's elite and they don't need to give up.
“Banklink is a significant sponsor and it's just fantastic what they give to the sport. Over and above the principal sum they give us, they're always doing things behind the scenes. This is one of them.
“They asked us if they could do this. What chairman or CEO is going to refuse it?”
The move is notable, though. The gold medallists from rowing's most successful Olympics by a long shot deserve their rewards. On top of the $60,000-a-year stipend they get through High Performance Sport NZ's performance enhancement grants programme, the rock stars of this sport rely on the generosity of the few sponsors they can get.
They're paupers compared with their peers in professional sports such as rugby. Some have private sponsors - Drysdale, for example, is supported by financial company KordaMentha - but it's fair to say they compete in the sport more for the love than the money.
On the back of this Games effort, with the three gold medals backed up by bronzes from women's pair Juliette Haigh and Rebecca Scown and lightweight double Storm Uru and Peter Taylor, it's vital the sport cashes in on the wave of interest from a captivated Kiwi public.
“We'll go back reflect, sit down and strategise,” Sutherland said. “We've already done some preliminary work on our next four-year plan. We're very keen to talk to High Performance Sport NZ about extending that to eight. It takes eight years to become a medallist and we need to be thinking more long term."
More effort had to be put into talent identification, which would need financing.
He was “very confident” that all medal winners could be retained in the sport - even 33-year-old Drysdale, who now has the elusive Olympic gold to go with his five world titles.
“He's a fantastic athlete. We've seen some fantastic athletes in world rowing. Greg Searle, sitting in that Great Britain eight, is 40, and a superb athlete. You don't need to give up. The secret is, do you still have the passion?
Sutherland said the rowers' performances "on and off the water have inspired a nation, but they've also inspired a young generation of New Zealanders that will look at the sport of rowing and hopefully take it up. That's going to inspire us for the future”.