Will champion rowers go four more years?

MARC HINTON IN LONDON
Last updated 05:00 07/08/2012
Medal winning rowers
Mike Scott/Fairfax NZ

New Zealand's rowing medalists show off the hardware they gathered during the London Olympics regatta. (From left) Peter Taylor, Storm Uru, Hamish Bond, Mahe Drysdale, Eric Murray, Joseph Sullivan, Nathan Cohen, (being held) Rebecca Scown and Juliette Haigh.

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As the rock stars of New Zealand's rowing squad hit the Olympics for a little bit of decadence and a lot of sport-watching, in the back of their minds will lurk one nagging thought: can I do this for another four years?

After their record-breaking feats at Eton Dorney over the last week, netting a Games haul of three gold medals and two bronzes - bettered only by Great Britain's four golds, two silvers and three bronzes - none of the big names of this Kiwi squad wanted to make any decisions on their futures.

Fair enough. Now is not the time for those calls to be made - not while the agony and ecstasy of the last four years, and of this defining regatta, is still so fresh in the minds.

They all need a little time and distance to establish some perspective, and to clear the minds a little. It's a major decision. We are talking a four-year commitment of mind, body and soul to an at times tortuous training regime.

Olympic regattas are the fluff, but there's a mountain of work that goes in before reaching that pinnacle.

The closest anyone came to providing any sort of an indication of intentions was the 33-year-old Mahe Drysdale who hinted at a year-long sabbatical and a "good probability" that he will look to compete in Rio.

Note, he did not mention defending his title.

The rest have pleaded the fifth, and say they'll enjoy a break before settling on their futures. They know too well the call is not whether to row one more year, or two. It's to commit right through to Rio.

It would be nice to think that wheels will be turning while the athletes do their pondering. Rowing matters to New Zealand now - that's clear after a regatta that captivated the nation.

Clearly our pool of talent, and the quality of our coaches, is good enough to turn the hard work into valuable Olympic medals.

This was an outstanding regatta by the Kiwis. Three golds is a giddy return for one sport, and five medals all told will make it far and away New Zealand's best sport of these Games.

Eric Murray and Hamish Bond have become the sport's most dominant crew, and theirs was an awe-inspiring performance throughout.

They blitzed the world's best time by six seconds in their heat, won their semi by a mile and in tricky crosswinds made it a one-boat race for gold in the final, posting a 6:16 time arguably more impressive than their heat.

But it was the golds won by single-sculler Mahe Drysdale and the double of Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan that provided the most drama and emotion.

Drysdale had to dig deep to see off rival Ondrej Synek and attain the victory that his career CV so desperately needed.
And the double's Usain Bolt-like finish to snatch gold will live long in the memory.

These under-sized over-achievers backed their finishing power, and timed their run to perfection, setting the table for the 'Golden Hour' which followed a day later.

Credit, too, to the women's pair and lightweight double who secured quality bronzes, and even Emma Twigg who's not far off the mark - fourth in the women's single scull.

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Yesterday the rowers were honoured at Kiwi House where hundreds of New Zealaders queued for hours to press the flesh with their new heroes.

That was an eye-opener for these humble sportsmen, a not so subtle reminder of their newfound status.

Murray described the support as "overwhelming" and said the gravity of what they'd achieved was starting to sink in.

Added Bond: "This is mental. It would be a first for rowing and long may it continue. We've had massive success and it's just great that everybody is out here to celebrate with us. It's just crazy, there's queues out the door."

The challenge now is to persuade these oar-some achievers that four more years is not such a bad thing. Whether that takes money, or brand new cars - already in the pipeline - or a lifetime's supply of baked beans, it shouldn't matter.

New Zealand's fallen in love with these guys. We don't want them disappearing on us now.

- Fairfax Media

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