Drysdale graces rivals' big day with praise

Challenges 'never an excuse to give up'

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 05/12/2012
Mahe Drysdale
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
BRIGHT AND SHINY: Olympic rower Mahe Drysdale shows his gold medal to young Christchurch rowers before opening the Avon club’s new facility at Kerr’s Reach.

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Olympic champion Mahe Drysdale praised the Avon Rowing Club's new facilities at Kerr's Reach - but joked that his presence at last night's opening came with a big string attached.

The London single sculls gold medallist claimed Avon president Athol Earl had brought him to Christchurch under "false pretences".

"He told me if I came down that you guys promised to give [Drysdale's Auckland club West End] the Centennial Oar [for New Zealand's champion club] this year.

"So I do expect, if you're racing a West End crew, you must lose to them; that's my payment for being here."

Judging by the look on the faces of the assembled Avon rowers - many of who queued to be photographed with Drysdale and his gold medal - the Olympic maestro could be in for a big disappointment.

Drysdale, no stranger to setbacks in his own career, saw the scale of quake devastation for the first time yesterday and said it was obvious that Avon rowers had "faced a lot of adversity".

"It's great to see you out here continuing to train," he told the club's crews, some fresh off the water after a training session.

"Obviously, the Olympics was the crowning glory of my career, but over the years I've faced a lot of challenges.

"What makes me proud is the journey and when I look back, some of the things I've overcome . . . You guys have a very special opportunity.

"You have a huge team around you to support you and who want you to succeed. That's why you've got these facilities here today," he said.

"It's never an excuse to give up, it's just finding a way around [them]."

Drysdale wasn't the only member of rowing royalty at the official opening.

Earl, a member of New Zealand's 1972 Olympic gold medal eight; Avon's patron, long-time former national coach and convener of selectors Fred Strachan; and Rowing New Zealand chairman Ivan Sutherland were part of the official party who lauded the part played by club captain Don Symon, the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic coxed four bronze medallist, and his building committee team.

Symon said work began on the new facilities, two sheds at Kerr's Reach and another at Stewart's Gully on the Waimakariri River where the Southern Regional High Performance athletes and crews from St Bede's College, an Avon affiliate, train.

He said planning for the rebuild began in May last year and the club had had a lot of support from the city council, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authorityand sponsors to get the new facilities established "in what is basically a red zone".

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A third shed and a clubrooms building are planned at Kerr's Reach where the Union and Canterbury clubs also hope to have new amenities open by Christmas.

Symon, who said the total cost of the Avon facilities would be "just under $1 million", was proud of the way that Avon had rallied since the September 2010 quake had destroyed their old home. "No other sport lost total use of its facilities . . . No other sport has replaced in total its facilities," he said.

Sutherland - an former Olympic bronze medallist and an Avon club member in the 1970s - said that rowing had had a rise in membership since the London Olympics success with 200 "new registrations in Canterbury alone".

The club gave mounted oar paddle trophies last night to the major contributors to the rebuild project - Christchurch City Council, Fulton Hogan Trust, Christchurch Earthquake Appeal Trust and New Zealand Community Trust.

The trophy bases were made from recycled rimu from the old Avon clubrooms which were built in 2006.

- The Press

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