Rowing stars ponder a tilt at Olympic eight

IAN ANDERSON
Last updated 05:00 05/09/2012
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IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ

MOVE TO AN EIGHT? London Olympians Hamish Bond, Mahe Drysdale and Eric Murray.

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A star-studded men's eight for the 2016 Olympics requiring a change in focus could be the next major discussion for Rowing New Zealand.

Olympic gold medal winner Eric Murray admitted a switch to the eight was one of his options should he continue in the sport, but the code's governing body would need to assess whether the move would hinder their current small boat dominance.

With fellow Olympic champion Mahe Drysdale also pondering his options, rumours over the formation of an "elite eight" featuring the likes of Drysdale, Murray, gold medal-winning pairs crew-mate Hamish Bond and 2008 Olympic bronze medallist George Bridgewater are growing.

"Everyone talks about the eight, and we've talked about that amongst ourselves too," Murray said. "I've got reservations about doing it, I've got excitement about doing it. It's not just a conversation you have over a cup of coffee."

Drysdale recently told the Waikato Times he was also contemplating what he wanted to achieve next.

"There's other options still there - is it time to go and have another challenge? Is the single the right place for me or is there something else I want to achieve in the sport?" Drysdale said.

The country's top rowers are in the process of meeting with Rowing NZ to discuss their plans and Murray said while a top men's eight was an enticing prospect, it would be a significant challenge for Rowing NZ.

"We do need someone to start developing that system [with the eights]. You look at the top New Zealand under-23s and juniors coming through and we need those boats to keep those people in the sport," Murray said.

"At the moment, there's not enough spaces to go around, when we've got the smaller boat talent."

New Zealand won five rowing medals at London 2012 - three gold and two bronze - with four of them coming in two-people crews and single sculler Drysdale notching the other. That continued their successful approach over the past decade with small boats.

For the 2010 world championships at Lake Karapiro, Rowing NZ assembled young men's and women's crews that produced promising results, with the men fifth in the A final and the women second in the B final to be eighth overall.

However, Rowing NZ didn't assemble a women's eight to contest the 2012 Olympics, while the men's eight missed qualification.

Three members of the 2010 men's eight were part of the New Zealand four which finished fifth in the B final in London while another was in the men's quad which won the Olympic B final.

New Zealand has a proud Olympic history in men's larger boats, winning gold in the eight in 1972 and in the coxed four in 1968. The men's coxless four won silver in 1972, the coxed four collected bronze in 1984 and 1988 and the eight won bronze in 1976.

Murray said any eight assembled would have to be world class.

"We could send a men's eight overseas, but Rowing New Zealand doesn't send boats just to compete, they want to be among the medals. They would insist an eight could produce medals on the world stage.

"But if you put all of us into a larger boat, do you sacrifice the smaller boats? Do you want to win with an eight, or try to bring back three or four medals in smaller boats? That's your conundrum."

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Murray said while he hadn't yet made a commitment to continuing, he admitted "Rio is definitely on the cards".

"At the moment, the most viable option is to do it again in the pair. People ask me ‘Would I get sick of it?'

"No, I enjoy winning," he said.

- Waikato Times

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