Rowing’s magnificent Olympic tradition

Any Olympic gold is magnificent, but there was something particularly “New Zealand” about the way Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan won the men’s double sculls at Eton Dorney today.
The New Zealanders lagged almost last at the halfway point, but finished with a withering burst of speed that left their closest rivals floundering.
If we think of some of New Zealand’s other great Olympic triumphs, including Jack Lovelock, Peter Snell, John Walker and Danyon Loader, they have been achieved in the same manner – pacing the race superbly and finishing strongly while others struggled.
It’s victory in the grand manner and it looked especially grand to New Zealand eyes today.
It was nice, too, that New Zealand should win gold in the double sculls. Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell made the women’s version of that event their own at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.
New Zealand has a proud tradition of Olympic rowing and the 2012 squad is not just honouring that, but is actually enhancing it.
Darcy Hadfield, one of a trio of early 20th century world professional singles sculls champions, was New Zealand’s first Olympic rowing medallist, at Antwerp in 1920. Hadfield picked up the bronze medal there behind two famous scullers.
There was a silver in 1932 and then nothing until the Rusty Robertson golden era that began with the coxed four’s gold in Mexico City’s rarefied atmosphere in 1968.
Since then things have only got better.
New Zealand has won a gold medal in rowing at the past four Olympics, and often has won a lot more besides.
We’ve now won 18 Olympic rowing medals, seven of them gold. Rowing is by some distance New Zealand’s most successful Olympic sport.
The class of 2012 has already produced a bronze medal, courtesy of Juliette Haigh and Rebecca Scown in the pair, and now the gold in the double sculls.
And that’s even before the unbackable favourites, Eric Murray and Hamish Bond, compete in the men’s pair, Mahe Drysdale lines up in the single sculls and plus sundry other finalists.
There were joyous scenes at Eton Dorney today. It was wonderful to hear God Defend New Zealand played in the rowers’ honour, and Kiwis in the crowd cheered and clapped while the men of the hour – Sullivan and Cohen – just couldn’t suppress their smiles.
Two South Islanders set the New Zealand Olympic effort alight. Cohen has become the first Southlander to win an Olympic gold medal (here’s hoping Storm Uru has followed him before the end of the week) and Sullivan continues a proud tradition of champion rowers from Marlborough.
It hasn’t been all that easy for Cohen and Sullivan. They have won the last two world titles, but their form earlier this northern hemisphere season was anything but encouraging.
All credit to them, though. They kept training and they kept the faith.
They knew they had the speed, and that they just had to get things right on the day.
That’s the great challenge for all athletes at the Olympics – to find their best form at just the right time. And that’s what Cohen and Sullivan did.