Could Rio 2016 be even better?

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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The History Boys are not done writing their stories yet.

The five Cambridge-based gold medal winners from London are all committed to trying to repeat the dose in Rio in 2016, which is testament to the quality of the programme that Rowing New Zealand is now able to put together out at Lake Karapiro.

But it doesn't stop there. Of the four bronze medallists, two are also back and a third - lightweight sculler Storm Uru - will probably be there, too, once he takes care of a couple of personal, non-rowing challenges. Only Juliette Haigh, from the women's pair, has decided to hang up her oar.

Who knows? Maybe these Kiwi sporting superstars will bring a few more along for the ride, as well, as rowing seeks to cement its place as New Zealand's defining Olympic sport.

What the Kiwi rowing squad achieved at Eton Dorney in 2012 was all but unprecedented in the annals of New Zealand Olympic history. Three gold and two bronze medals made this the second greatest ever haul from a single sport at the Games, surpassed only by the four golds achieved by the flat-water kayakers in Los Angeles in 1984.

That, of course, was the Games where the Eastern bloc stayed away. Rowing had no such luxury in London, when everyone who was anyone was there.

There had been a feeling that four years earlier in Beijing, a quality Kiwi squad had slightly underdelivered with one gold and two bronze medals. But London met all expectations as an outstanding group of Waikato-domiciled athletes delivered big time for their country.

But they're not done with that golden glow, not to mention those flash new Audis the gold medal winners get to keep for the next four years.

When Mahe Drysdale, at 34, finally decided just before Christmas to have a crack at defending his single sculls gold in Rio, that meant the golden quintet from London would all be back for another crack.

There was no way Eric Murray and Hamish Bond were going to quit after cutting such a swathe through the sport over the Olympic cycle.0 And the little engine that could, double-scullers Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan, also convinced themselves that they still had more to give after their London heroics.

Drysdale was a harder sell. He'll be 37 in Rio and had to be sure that he could retain his form in a discipline very much about self-motivation. He had his redemption; his long-sought-after Olympic gold to sit alongside his five world championships. The drive had to come from somewhere else to go four more years.

Shortly before sitting down to his Christmas turkey, Drysdale explained that he'd found the motivation he'd need to continue, though not before a Richie McCaw-like six-month sabbatical in which he will, among other things, compete in the Coast to Coast, complete an ironman and play in golf's PGA Championship at The Hills.

"I have thoroughly thought through my options, asking and answering a number of questions and consulting a number of people along the way," explained Drysdale. "While I have achieved everything I have ever wanted to in rowing and it culminated in Olympic Gold in London, I have found the drive, desire and determination to go after a second Olympic gold in Rio.

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"This decision has always revolved around one question: What will it take to win in Rio? I believe this will give me my best chance of delivering my desired goal in Rio," he said of the six-month period he would take away from Karapiro.

Murray, who was the first to recommit and has since dabbled in boxing via Fight for Life, equated the pressure he and Bond were under to the expectation a certain black-clad rugby team feels every time they run on the field. But clearly it has become something that drives him and Bond to continue to be the best they can be.

"The All Blacks are the pinnacle of sport in New Zealand and I wouldn't put the pressure we feel on the same level as theirs," Murray said in London. "By the sheer nature of our sport, we're not on display on a week-to-week basis. But my biggest fear of this whole campaign was not to be able to deliver what I knew I was capable of.

"I'm just pleased that we did. Something like 17,000 strokes were taken in training for every stroke of that final - it was a lot of effort and we're pleased that it was all worthwhile."

Cohen regained his enthusiasm to go round one more time while trekking around Africa with his partner, while Sullivan was always going to be up for another Olympic tilt given he's the youngest of them all.

Others who hinted at something special in London, such as Dick Tonks' women's quad scull and the lightweight women's pair, may also be ready to take their game to another level.

New Zealand fell in love with rowing during that magical week in August, and that affair looks set to continue for another four years as the next wave of talent joins the established core out at Karapiro's renowned rowing factory.

Dare we dream it could get even better than London?

- Waikato Times

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