Nathan Cohen's heart said it was time to quit
It's not that his heart was stopping him - more that his heart was no longer completely in it.
Nathan Cohen yesterday announced his retirement from rowing, ending plans to chase further Olympic glory in 2016 after winning gold at the 2012 Games in London.
An irregular heartbeat that troubled Cohen this season, eventually forcing his withdrawal from the New Zealand men's quad at the 2013 world championships in South Korea, was part of his thought process in ultimately deciding to hang up the oars.
But it wasn't the decisive factor.
"It's definitely not the reason for my retirement, but I guess one thing it did make me do is take an enforced break from the sport, which was something I pretty much never had in my career," Cohen said.
"Over 14 years I never once had to take a compulsory break.
"So that gave me time to reflect, which I probably didn't do after London, and gave me a chance to decide what I wanted to do with my life."
With a gold medal to accompany two world championship titles in the double sculls boat with Joseph Sullivan, Cohen eventually came to the conclusion that the time was right to move on to other things.
He will start a new job with the Bank of New Zealand in the commercial department early next year.
"For me it's nice knowing you reached the pinnacle of your sport," he said.
"If we hadn't have won gold and still had that burning desire to try and get one, it would probably keep you in.
"You have achieved your pinnacle and that was way beyond anything I set out to achieve in the sport."
Cohen and Sullivan provided a huge highlight of last year's Olympics, storming home over the last 500 metres to win gold.
The general New Zealand sporting public were astonished to see when the duo stood on the medal podium just how the 1.81m Cohen and 1.78m Sullivan were dwarfed by the giant scullers from Italy (Alessio Sartori and Romano Battisti) and Slovenians Luka Spik and Iztok Cop, who won silver and bronze respectively.
Cohen said it took some time to work through his decision to retire.
"It was a bit of a journey, rather than happening overnight," he said "It's probably taken three or four months since the world champs to come to that conclusion.
"You talk it through with your family, close friends, and also past sports people who have been through the same sort of thing - you get their advice of their experiences and how they went through that part of their lives.
"But it was something that I had to come to myself - it had to be my decision and at the end of the day it was mostly me that came up with it.
"I'm reasonably comfortable with it - it was such a gradual process that it eventually came quite naturally."
Cohen switched from the double sculls boat to the quad for this year, with the replacements for him and Sullivan - Michael Arms and Robbie Manson - claiming three World Cup golds before an injury to Arms hindered their world champs campaign, finishing sixth in the final.
"The sport's in great health, with a real mix of youth and experience," Cohen said.
"We have a lot of young guys coming through, then the experience of some London medallists still around, so hopefully the results keep coming.
"When I look back to when I first started in the team in the mid-2000s, there was no depth at all - it was more whoever was around got put in and hoped that they went well.
"Now there's a lot more competition for the seats - it's been awesome to watch the growth of the sport and just the elite talent we have at the world level now."
The 27-year-old was widely regarded throughout his career by his Rowing New Zealand peers as one of the toughest competitors to row a boat, and was constantly referenced by team-mates as an inspirational figure in training and competition.
That culminated in what will be Cohen's most cherished memory.
"The moment that's most satisfying is the last five strokes of that Olympic final, knowing that we were going to win an Olympic gold medal.
"All that 14 years of hard work is going to pay off is one of those internal feelings that is quite hard to describe and it's something that I'll never forget."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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