Special memories from Olympics

MARC HINTON
Last updated 05:00 01/01/2013
Waikato Times

New Zealand Rowing coach Calvin Ferguson has a plan and that is to coach Olympic gold medal winners. He had success in London 2012 with Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan and intends to help more reach the dias at future games.

Glory Days: Rowing gold

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Every Olympic gold medal is to be treasured, savoured and celebrated like there are no tomorrows.

But two in an hour from the same sport at the same venue, as we saw in London at the start of August, verged on the ridiculous.

I was there and I can still scarcely believe it. Even though we all knew it was on, and some of us had even written words to that effect, it was flabbergasting to watch it with your own eyes. Some years we've gone whole Olympics without gold - six times, to be precise. Here we were bathing in it as rowing served up twin golds from the same sport within an hour.

I can tell you, New Zealanders walking round Eton Dorney, west of London, that day on August 3 came very close to overdosing on national pride. There were tears in eyes, lumps in throats and goosebumps running down arms. Those of us who had jobs to do had to work very, very hard to keep our focus amidst such euphoria.

Does it get any better? Sure, parents will talk about the birth of their kids, and the odd romantic might even single out his wedding day for sacred status. But in terms of shared national glory, what played out that day in Buckinghamshire was quite simply as good as it gets.

One Olympics, one sport, one venue, one very special hour … and two glistening gold medals for this proud little nation in the Pacific.

It had been done before, of course. But only once. The Golden Hour, it had been called then, way back in 1960 in Tokyo, and that seemed like a fitting descriptor for those of us charged with chronicling the feats of the contemporary Snells and Hallbergs of New Zealand sport.

Hamish Bond, Eric Murray and Mahe Drysdale - all domiciled in Cambridge, just a stone's throw from their Karapiro training base - were their names and they combined to create one of the great hours in New Zealand sport. Heck, for New Zealand, period.

First, it was Bond and Murray in the coxless pair, their final the crowning moment of four glorious years where this dynamic duo had not lost a single race. You name it - World Cups, world championships, heats, semis, finals - and not a single defeat. Wow!

They'd been so good, this terrific twosome, they'd sent Britain's two premier rowers of their generation scurrying into the four, admitting defeat in their battle to haul in the dominant Kiwis.

It was a final, really, without suspense. The yin and yang of rowing had been making sweet music in their shell all week. They had shattered the world's best time in their heat, made mincemeat of their semifinal and you figured only mechanical misfortune or Machiavellian misadventure could deny them now.

They didn't disappoint. They took a few strokes to wind it up, but once they did, they were in a race of their own. At 500m, they trailed the fast-starting French by a shade, by 1000 they had put a second and a half on their nearest pursuers, and at 1500, they could have paddled home with their hands and still had something up their sleeves.

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It was relief you felt, more than pure elation, at the finish. Predictable. Delectable. To have failed at the final tilt at the summit would have been heartbreaking. To succeed was endorsement of their greatness.

Fifty minutes later, the patriarch of this Kiwi Olympic team sat in his single scull ready for a race that would define if not his life, certainly the last decade of it.

It was on Drysdale, the second leg of Golden Hour, and for every Kiwi at the superb Buckinghamshire course the tension was palpable.

At 33, Drysdale had been five times a world champion, but last go round in Beijing had been beset by the sort of bad luck you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. Sick to his stomach and running on empty, he'd still managed a glorious bronze medal.

But no matter the magnificence of his effort against the odds, it still hadn't been gold. So, four years on, even Drysdale himself - as brutally honest a fellow as there is on the Kiwi sporting landscape - admitted it was redemption or bust in London.

We were all nervous for Mahe when the final began. Not just because of how much we wanted him to win or how much he deserved to win. But because it was sport. And in sport, no one has any God-given right to anything.

Sport isn't sympathetic. It isn't romantic. It doesn't reward nice guys, or dish out breaks to even the ledger.

Then there was that hunk of Czech oak known as Ondrej Synek to consider. He'd been impressive through qualifying and looked a formidable obstacle.

Drysdale would later confess when he'd come to the course the butterflies had been so bad, he'd struggled to keep his breakfast down. This was hard enough to watch. To live it was nigh on unbearable.

But, like the champion he is, he came through. He was fourth after 500, but had the lead by the halfway mark, had a length on Synek with 500 to go and then dug as deep as he has ever done to hold on for a gold that even his closest rivals could not help but celebrate.

A day earlier, those under-sized, over-powered double-scullers Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan had delivered their own golden moment - arguably just as glorious. They powered home with a finish for the ages to kick-start a regatta that would eventually net three golds and two bronzes.

Special times. Special people. Special memories.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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