Bronze medal-winner Haigh calls it a career
Three-time world champion and Olympic bronze medallist Juliette Haigh has become the first of New Zealand's superstar rowing troupe to pull the pin on her career.
Haigh, 30, confirmed at a glittering Olympic celebration dinner at Rowing NZ's Lake Karapiro headquarters last night she was bowing out of the sport following a successful 15-year career, the last nine in the international squad.
Haigh's partner, Mahe Drysdale, was among the big crowd in attendance last night who paid tribute to Haigh's career, though the 34-year-old five-time world champion and Olympic gold medallist had yet to make a firm commitment to taking part in the next Games cycle.
Eric Murray is the only one of New Zealand's gold medallists from London to publicly declare his intention to row through to Rio de Janeiro in 2016, though Drysdale, Murray's perfect pairs partner Hamish Bond and double-scull champions Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan have all indicated they're more than likely to have another crack.
Haigh, who has been a mainstay of the Kiwi women's pair over the last three Olympics, and 32-year-old Matthew Trott both announced their retirements from the international squad last night.
Trott has been a solid performer in the Kiwi men's squad over the past six years or so, being part of the quad scull who finished seventh in London. He was also unlucky not to row the double scull with Nathan Cohen at Beijing in 2008 when he was nudged out by the return of Rob Waddell.
Haigh's decision to hang up her oar following her third Olympic campaign will be a blow for the women's squad, in which she was very much the senior figure. But she said last night the timing was right for the hard call to be made.
"After the rewarding result in the pair at London [where she took bronze with Rebecca Scown] I took some time to look at my future," said Haigh. "While I still have a great love for rowing I no longer feel I can commit to a fourth Olympic campaign. This is a tough and demanding sport that requires committing every part of yourself to one goal.
"It has been a very special team and environment to be a part of, and I look forward to following the success of the younger rowers as they develop."
Haigh last night paid tribute to her coach John Robinson and Scown for a partnership that had yielded two world championships and that Olympic bronze at Eton Dorney. "Rebecca's fortitude and resilience have been a major part of our success together. It's been an incredible journey and we've overcome many challenges," she said.
Rowing NZ chief executive Simon Peterson said Haigh would be missed among the elite women's rowers at Karapiro.
"Juliette has been an integral member of our women's programme. Her results, her attitude and her professionalism are a credit to her and we see her as role model for any aspiring rower to look up to," he said.
Haigh made her international senior debut in 2003, and paired with Nicky Coles for the 2004 Olympics in Athens. They went on to win world championship gold in 05, silver in 06 and were fifth at the Beijing Games.
After a year out in 09, Haigh paired with Scown for back-to-back world titles in 2010 and 11, and then finished this year with that memorable bronze medal at Eton Dorney.
Haigh also paid tribute to the inspiration provided by Drysdale. "Mahe has been a great source of strength and support, and his competitive nature has spurred me on many occasions," she said.
Bond said Haigh would be sorely missed out at Karapiro as the elite squad got ready for another cycle.
"I guess her and Rebecca followed on from the twins as far as being leaders of the women's programme, and I know a lot of the younger girls really look up to them as something to aspire to."
Bond, meanwhile, said he had still not made a final decision on whether he would team back up with Murray and look to continue their undefeated run in the pair.
"The intent's there, it's just mapping out the path really," said Bond yesterday.
"We don't have to have four years set in stone, but it is important to work out why we're doing it," he added. "If we don't have that clear, if we don't know why we're training our arses off for six days a week, 11 months a year . . . if you don't have that intent, you're just going through the motions and that's not who Eric and I are."
It's understood Rowing NZ are confident of getting all of their gold-medal winners recommitted for Rio, with double-sculler Cohen understood to have had a change of heart over his future after a break spent travelling around Africa.
Super coach Dick Tonks is also said to be keen to stay aboard New Zealand's most successful Olympic programme.
Bond said he wants to "get his ducks in a row" before making his commitment official, and it's a similar story with the others.
The golden glow of London, it would seem, has inspired them.
- © Fairfax NZ News