Rower Nathan Cohen has eye on Olympic prize

ULTIMATE PRIZE: August 2 and – all going to plan – Nathan Cohen will line up on Dorney Lake in the Olympic final of the men's premier double.
ULTIMATE PRIZE: August 2 and – all going to plan – Nathan Cohen will line up on Dorney Lake in the Olympic final of the men's premier double.

Nathan Cohen knows when he grows old and sits in his armchair gazing out a window he will be able to reflect on his sporting career with a proud feeling.

Back-to-back world rowing doubles titles on its own makes him arguably one of Southland's greatest sportspeople.

On the wider New Zealand sporting front Cohen has also inked his name in bold letters in the history books.

No New Zealand premier double sculls combination had ever won gold at the world championships before Cohen and team-mate Joseph Sullivan stood at the top of the podium at the 2010 world championships at Lake Karapiro.

They then backed it up by producing a remarkable finish to defend their title at last year's world championships in Slovenia.

Cohen acknowledges that whatever happens from now he can reflect on being among a select few through what he has achieved in rowing. But he quickly follows that up by highlighting a burning desire to make his mark at the Olympic Games this year.

In rowing, everything points towards doing well at an Olympic Games.

"If you asked if I would win back-to-back world titles I would never have expected that, ever," he says.

"When I finish rowing and look back it will be nice. It's obviously nice to achieve that but come Olympic year it counts for nothing, and we're aware of that more than anyone else.

"Past performances count for nothing' when you line up in new races it is all about that day."

London will be his second shot at an Olympic Games after Beijing in 2008, where he and Rob Waddell finished fourth in the premier double.

The Southlander declares himself in a much better state this time around as he sets his sights on an Olympic gold.

"I think Beijing has given me confidence. I know what to expect, I've experienced it before, I've seen it before, I understand what the Olympic environment is like and I think I'm a lot more relaxed about it this year, as relaxed as you can be. I've got a better perspective that it's just another race. It's still only a 2km lake with six boats in a race – that doesn't change whether you're at the Olympics or on the Oreti River."

He is also now part of a settled combination with Sullivan. The buildup has been a lengthy one for the two, rather than the rushed approach as it was for Cohen in 2008.

Four years ago Cohen was lobbed into a doubles combination with Rob Waddell.

Waddell wanted to line up in the single but was headed off in trials by Mahe Drysdale.

Cohen and Waddell were two of New Zealand's best oarsmen but the combination didn't seem to find that spark required to put them on the podium.

This time around, Cohen has had two years of battling the world's best with Sullivan at his side, and the pair seem better suited together.

The fact Cohen and Sullivan have won the world title in the past two years suggest it is a combination working very well at the moment and they will head into this year's Olympics as a gold medal favorite.

They have gone from the chasers to the chased in double quick time, but Cohen isn't getting tied up with what could or could not unfold in London.

He's taking the approach that it is about the process rather than the outcome.

He is well aware what the possible prize is on August 2 but says at the moment it is about taking "small steps" rather than getting giddy dreaming about a gold medal around his neck.

"You obviously know what the goal is for this year but you try and do it in baby steps," he says. "It's one day at a time and making us better each day, and be the best you can be each day. Because if your focus is on being the best you can be each day and try and improve each day, hopefully it takes the right steps towards the major goal which is obviously no secret in a Olympic year.

"The day you start going backwards is the day that you don't strive for that extra half second," he said.

Those steps include 200km each week on the water with weight sessions on top of that in a gruelling, six-days-a-week training schedule.

"We are still fortunate to have Sundays off but by the time you get to Sunday all you want to do is lie on the couch all day, rest up and get ready to do it all again the next week. Even though it is a day off it's one of the most tired days you feel all week because the week finally catches up on you."

In May, Cohen and the rest of the New Zealand elite team will head to Europe where they will compete in World Cup regattas in Switzerland and Germany.

From there the New Zealand team will head to Belgium for a six-week camp and will arrive in London five days before the start of the Olympics.

The Southland Times