Peter is a sports writer at the Bay of Plenty Times

Olympics: Drysdale buoyant ahead of Brazil

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DEDICATED: Countless hours of solo training have paid dividends for Mahe Drysdale.
DEDICATED: Countless hours of solo training have paid dividends for Mahe Drysdale.

Mahe Drysdale was into many sports growing up in Tauranga, particularly cricket and canoe polo, but rowing was not one of them.

It was an opportunity to go to the Easter Tournament in Dunedin with some of his University of Auckland mates that first saw him get his long legs inside a rowing skiff.

But from that point he was hooked and his 1.99m frame and tenacious attitude quickly caught the eye of the New Zealand selectors.

Drysdale made his first Olympic Games in 2004 in Athens as part of the NZ coxless four crew that finished fifth, before shifting to the singles sculls where he has made his name as one of New Zealand's greatest athletes.

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The 37-year-old is the defending Olympic champion and five-time world supremo but despite all that success he is just as excited about competing at his fourth Olympics in Rio as his first.

Mahe Drysdale celebrates after winning the single sculls final at the 2012 London Olympics. Photo/file
Mahe Drysdale celebrates after winning the single sculls final at the 2012 London Olympics. Photo/file

"The Olympics is an awesome place and I guess one of those exclusive clubs where you obviously have to do a lot of work to be selected and then once you arrive everything is very much put on," Drysdale said.

"It is a little bit of a circus I guess you could call it but the whole experience of the village is awesome. The racing and the rowing is no different to any other regatta but everything else that goes around it is quite crazy.

"That is one of the keys I guess, in being able to focus and putting all the other stuff out of your mind so you can get on and train and race as well as you need to to achieve your dreams."

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics Drysdale was awarded one of the great honours bestowed on any athlete. He carried the national flag into the stadium at the opening ceremony with the New Zealand team following behind.

I knew things were going well heading into Europe and on track but it is not until you actually face your competitors that you know for sure.
Mahe Drysdale

"It was a special moment when you lead your country. I had never been to an opening ceremony so it was quite an amazing experience walking into the 'bird cage' in Beijing which is an iconic stadium with 90,000 people there," Drysdale said.

"It was a very proud moment and I felt very honoured to be a part of that and to be the leader of the team is something I will never forget for the rest of my life."

Drysdale is in top form and physically well prepared to take on any of the younger men chasing him for gold at Rio in August.

In the last month he won gold at both the Lucerne World Cup regatta and the Holland Beker regatta in the Netherlands. Both times he beat current world champion Ondrej Synek, from Czech Republic.

"I knew things were going well heading into Europe and on track but it is not until you actually face your competitors that you know for sure," Drysdale said.

"It was a really nice confirmation that things are exactly where they need to be. Obviously there are still another [50] days and you've got to make the most of every one of those days and get faster because the competition will increase quite dramatically.

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"Being Olympic year everyone wants to be in the best shape possible. Some of those will come off and some of those won't. I am pretty confident I know what I have to do between now and then to try and stay on top.

"It is a huge confidence that I have done it before and you just have to stick to what you know makes you fast. If you do that then you probably are going to put yourself in a position to win come Rio."

The level of pollution at the sailing and rowing courses in Rio has been a contentious issue ever since the Brazilian city was named to host the 2016 Olympics, but in typical Drysdale style he is not bothering with issues he has no control over and says he actually likes the course.

"The water is dirty. That is just a given and that is not going to change. Thankfully we don't end up in the water.

"It is an absolute beautiful spot for a rowing regatta. We are right in the centre between Ipanema and Copacabana. In the start blocks you are looking up on your left at Christ the Redeemer statue up on the hill.

"There are supposedly some issues with wind and having some rough water but if anything that probably does favour the New Zealand crews. We train at Karapiro and we go out in pretty much any conditions which is something the Europeans don't do."

-Drysdale and fellow Tauranga Olympian Zoe Stevenson (women's double sculls) are in action this weekend at the 2016 World Rowing Cup III in Poznan, Poland.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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