Drysdale needs more time to decide future

MARC HINTON
Last updated 05:00 15/12/2012
EXCELLENCE
IAIN McGREGOR
SUPREME: Mahe Drysdale winning the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

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Mahe Drysdale is a patient man. But also a realistic one. So as he waits for the passion to return, he understands the likelihood of him defending his Olympic gold medal in the single sculls is fading by the day.

At 34, Drysdale needs that passion to commit to a fourth Olympic campaign. It's why initial optimism over the prospect of returning for another cycle has faded somewhat to guarded pessimism.

So far the spark has not resurfaced. Not even after his victory in last weekend's Billy Webb Challenge which he admitted he enjoyed.

Until it does, Drysdale simply can't make the decision his sport, and his country, would love him to.

The call on whether to row again after that successful mission of redemption in London is not about a year or two more of his life. It's about four long years through until Rio, and countless hours on the water getting yourself in the condition you need to be to be the best in the world.

Drysdale, more than anyone, understands that the mindset has to be right. Being a single sculler there is no- one else to lean on for motivation or inspiration.

So he waits. And waits.

"After Beijing I thought I was going to take a year off and I sort of decided within two months I was going to continue," muses Drysdale. "I want to commit for four years and to do that I need to know that I'm going to last four years. I'm not at that point yet, and the longer it goes on, to be honest, the more unlikely I am to be there.

"That's where I am now. I would like to make a decision by the end of the year so I've got a month to have that passion come back, and if it doesn't, maybe it's time to call it quits."

This is Drysdale, five-time world champion, being brutally honest with himself. It is the only way he can hope to make it through to Rio.

"I need to know in myself that it's the right decision. I don't want to commit and two years down the track go: ‘I've made the wrong call'.

"If I commit to Rio it's because I think I can win in Rio. That's who I am. I'm not going there to win any old medal. I'm going there to win the gold medal.

"I'm not prepared yet to put myself through the wringer to get to that position."

Drysdale said he had had nothing but support from Rowing NZ, while master coach Dick Tonks also provided much-needed backing.

"Dick was the first person I sought out. He believes I can stay in front, and that was a big thing. Knowing he thinks I can get more out of myself and he can get more out of me was important."

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Still, the temptation must be great to go out on top. His partner, Juliette Haigh, has already made her decision to retire, and if anything that's brought the reality home for this hugely respected New Zealander.

"You are a long time retired, and once you make that decision it's pretty final. It's what struck me reading the press release [on Haigh's retirement].

"Ultimately, I'd love to be in Rio because I love what I do. But unless I can find that passion and be confident I can be at the front of the field, I'm not going to be there."

One thing looks certain. Drysdale will not be at next year's first World Cup regatta in Sydney in March, regardless of what he decides. After three months of post-Olympic globetrotting that's seen him visit the US, Argentina, Sri Lanka (where he was treated like "royalty"), Australia and the UK, not to mention traipsing the length and breadth of New Zealand, he's simply not ready to find his peak again so soon.

"It's a four-year decision," he says. "I know in four years I can be in shape."

With Eric Murray recommitted, Hamish Bond all-but, and Nathan Cohen returning from a trip to Africa re-energised, it looks like Drysdale will be the last of the gold medallists to decide whether he has one more Games in him. It's fair to say he has earned our patience.

- Fairfax Media

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