Gold medalist Sullivan 'came close to quitting'

SUPPORT: Sullivan says his relationship with 2012 double sculls crewmate Nathan Cohen is still strong.
SUPPORT: Sullivan says his relationship with 2012 double sculls crewmate Nathan Cohen is still strong.

Olympic gold medalist Joseph Sullivan admitted he spent two weeks contemplating retiring from rowing.

The 26-year-old, who won gold at last year's London Olympics when he and double sculls crewmate Nathan Cohen produced a stunning late burst, was aggrieved at his non-selection by Rowing New Zealand for the national team that contested the World Cup regatta in Sydney last month.

Sullivan felt he'd been personally slighted and said support from the rowing community was a big factor in convincing him to continue his career and seek a second triumph at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

''I took a good two weeks to decide whether I was going to come back or not - it was a big kind of kick-down to get,'' Sullivan told the Waikato Times .

''I had a few phone calls from some older rowers. People like Don Rowlands told me not to give up. Things like that kept me wanting to go for it again, I guess.''

Sullivan was a shock omission from the World Cup squad for Sydney. He took time out from training after the London win, along with a number of Olympic medalists, but felt he had done what was required in time to be selected by the Rowing NZ panel.

''I'd done everything that they'd asked of me,'' Sullivan said.

''And what I'd been told was that we were going to get a bit more leniency, but that got taken away pretty quickly. I was left high and dry - where I thought I was, that it was okay, was obviously not for them.''

Fellow Olympic gold-medal winners Hamish Bond and Eric Murray (men's pair), along with women's single sculler Emma Twigg, were named in the first Rowing NZ squad of the year but didn't go to Sydney.

''It just kinda felt like it was one thing for some people and different for others. I struggled with that. It was a massive struggle, being kept out after being told one thing and then having another thing held against you. It was kind of a 'where do I stand?' situation.

''I thought I had my place but it's always up for grabs, so it was a quick drop to the bottom. You've got to pick yourselves up and get back into it again.''

Sullivan said he eventually decided to get back in the boat.

''I'm still young, still fit, and keen to give Rio a really good nudge. It'd be cool to back it up and keep going.''

Sullivan said he's now back to the fitness levels of past seasons. which saw him and Cohen win two world championship titles in 2010 and 2011 before their dramatic sprint to gold at Eton Dorney.

He's training with the elite squad at Lake Karapiro daily, with a weekly programme consisting of 20-23kms on the water in the mornings, 16kms in the afternoon and weights sessions every Monday and Thursday for about an hour.

''Things are going heaps better - I've lost all the extra weight that I had.

''My motivation's gone up a lot more - I'm pretty eager to get back into the squad properly and prove a point I guess.''

Cohen was part of the New Zealand men's quad that won silver in Sydney in the opening World Cup regatta of the season and Sullivan is keen to join him in that boat for the two upcoming World Cup events in England and Switzerland and the world championships in South Korea in late August.

''I want to get back in a crew boat and go from there. I definitely feel I'm stronger in a crew boat rather than as a single.''

Sullivan may be considered as the men's single sculls representative for NZ at the next two World Cup regattas with another London gold medalist, Mahe Drysdale, not back in action until prior to the world champs.

But Sullivan would prefer being a crew member and said he's currently enjoying filling in for the injured Nathan Flannery in the quad at training.

''I want to be contributing and getting the boat moving fast, either the double or the quad.

He said his relationship with Cohen, who decided late last year to be part of the quad, was still strong.

''There were no hard feelings - we'd both decided on that.

''We both felt we wanted a change. I'd also said at the same time I wanted to go into the quad. I was a bit gutted and disheartened when I missed out.

''I'd love to give the quad a good go - it would be awesome to have a bigger boat winning finals.

''I know Rowing New Zealand is very focused on the small boat categories, but I definitely think we've got the potential to get a big boat moving fast and get some medals out of it - it'd be cool to be a part of that.''

ON HIS OWN: Joseph Sullivan will compete in the single sculls in place of Mahe Drysdale.
ON HIS OWN: Joseph Sullivan will compete in the single sculls in place of Mahe Drysdale.

Waikato Times