Rowing duo Cohen, Sullivan eye London Olympics

IAN ANDERSON
Last updated 05:00 27/12/2011
Cohen & Sullivan
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PUSHING THEMSELVES: Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan are working towards next year's London Olympics

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If he has enough breath left, dual world champion Nathan Cohen would be allowed to trot out the sporting cliche of "taking it just one day at a time".

At the moment, one day at a time is all Cohen and men's double sculls crewmate Joseph Sullivan can manage.

The duo have been pushing themselves to the limit in training as they endeavour to build a powerful and lasting fitness base while working towards next year's London Olympics.

That draining routine has ensured that any tantalising thoughts of Olympic glory are banished from their minds.

"A big day for us would be a 20 to 30 kilometre row in the morning session, have the middle of the day off, then do some weights in the afternoon and then a 12 to 26km row.

"You're ready for dinner after that," Cohen said.

"At the moment getting through each day is a struggle, so you don't tend to look too far ahead. We try and set some mini-goals, even if we know the big picture is no secret."

Cohen and Sullivan had their first brief taste of racing for the new season at the weather-shortened Christmas Regatta at Lake Karapiro last weekend. They won their heat and Cohen also won his single sculls heat but wasn't upset that rain and wind caused the abandonment of finals day.

"Training is more important at this time. We're at that big volume stage, which is giving us a platform to build on next year. I think we'll still be carrying on with that till the trials in March."

There will be more high-profile regattas in the coming months, including the North and South Island champs, the Cambridge Town Cup and the New Zealand champs before selection trials, but training will remain the chief focus for the duo.

"You race as hard as you can, no matter how tired you are because you're still doing big training miles," Cohen said. "We do a lot of internal racing and testing as well, every Wednesday and Saturday which is ongoing, so those tests of performance means we have monitors in place."

Cohen and Sullivan are possibly New Zealand's least recognised two-time world rowing champs.

While the unbeaten men's pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray grab headlines along with Mahe Drysdale and the women's pair of Rebecca Scown and Juliette Haigh, Cohen and Sullivan have emerged as genuine world stars.

They were surprise gold medallists at the 2010 world champs at Lake Karapiro and then proved dogged defenders of their crown by winning World Cup regattas in Hamburg and Lucerne before repeating in Bled by pipping Germany in dramatic fashion.

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So is the maxim that defending a title is tougher than winning one true?

"Yeah definitely. If you said at the start of the year that we'd go through 2011 unbeaten, well, I would have never expected that.

"In 2010, we had a slightly disappointing buildup to the world champs so we weren't expected to be a frontrunner – but we knew that we could be close if we got it right."

They got it right, but it was close too – Cohen and Sullivan timed their final lung-busting sprint to win by six hundredths of a second over German rivals Hans Gruhne and Stephan Krueger.

"This year we just wanted to be the very best that we could be – we worked on improving as a double and as individuals and we got better and better throughout the year.

"Then we had a nailbiter in Bled – any one of the top five or six boats could have won. Anyone who qualifies in the double can, on their day, medal, it's such a close field. You can drop back to eighth or ninth if you're not at your best.

"It was a very successful year but there's still a lot of hard work for us to do."

It's a nailed-on certainty that, barring injury, Cohen and Sullivan will represent their country in the double sculls at London. But the 25-year-old Cohen isn't taking anything for granted.

"With our open selection policy, things can change at any time. We're always being challenged and our squad is so strong.

"It's what drives New Zealand rowing to such a strong position on the international stage."

Cohen has already felt the pain of Olympic disappointment – in Beijing 2008, he and Rob Waddell finished fourth in the double sculls final after being paired together earlier that year when Waddell missed out on the single sculls berth to Mahe Drysdale.

However, he appears to have found the ideal mix with Sullivan, who displayed his undeniable potential with three golds at world under-23 championships from 2007-09.

"Sometimes you can jump into a combination and it can go fast straight away, other times it may not work ...We're getting a better idea of what can make our boat go fast."

Cohen said they've also had to make allowances for their varying racing styles.

"I'm more of a faster starter and Joseph the faster finisher, so we've had to make some compromises there. We have swapped seats quite a bit."

Their efforts to date make them favourites for London – just don't break the news to them, yet.

- The Dominion Post

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