Gold medal winner Mahe Drysdale felt "pain" after making New Zealand proud yet again with a consecutive Olympic gold - inching home in the closest race in Olympic rowing history.

"I spent a lot of energy getting into the lead and I thought that was enough. But I knew I had to stack it in close to the line.

"Usually after I win I don't feel the pain, but today... I felt the pain," he said

At yesterday morning's race, officials pored over the photo finish of the single sculls to discover Drysdale had won by less than the width of a bow ball over Croatian Damir Martin after both posted identical times of six minutes 41.34s.

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Drysdale says he'll never forget the uncertainty felt while floating next to Martin in the finish area at Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon.

"We were looking at each other, looking at the board, just waiting, waiting, waiting," he told NZ Newswire.

"I'd come here to win and my whole four years were resting on this one final bit. "It's not the way you want to do it but I'll take a gold medal any day."

"It was a super human effort from Damir, he just closed me down so quickly," Drysdale said. "I looked across and I thought he might have even got ahead of me at one point."

"It's something I haven't really tried but I just thought 'whack in as many as you can on the surge' and that's what it came down to."

Mahe also paid tribute to the departing Dick Tonks as the controversial coach signed off on his Olympic rowing career.

"I couldn't have done it without him," Drysdale said of Tonks after the singles sculls veteran successfully defended his Olympic crown with back-to-back gold medal triumphs.

"I don't think the whole New Zealand rowing programme would be where it is without him.

"(It's) his sixth Olympic gold medal. It's pretty special. I'm really happy to do it for him as much as for me."

But he has climbed the mountain again. Will he do it again? I'm not sure I can answer that.

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Tonks fell out spectacularly with Rowing New Zealand earlier this year and is set to go his separate ways with the national sports organisation now the Rio regatta is over. But

Drysdale successfully sought an exemption for Tonks to coach him in Brazil.

"If I'd lost Dick then, there was a chance I could have done it," Drysdale said when asked how much difference Tonks had made to his success in Brazil. "But it puts a lot more variables in the mix and that's not what you want.

"As I said then my best chance in Rio was to be pushed off the pontoon in Rio by Dick.

"He pushed me off the pontoon today and I came back with a gold medal....he's certainly a massive part of my success over the years."

Mahe Drysdale holds his daughter, Bronte Drysdale, after winning gold in the men's rowing single sculls final during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday. Photo/AP
Mahe Drysdale holds his daughter, Bronte Drysdale, after winning gold in the men's rowing single sculls final during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday. Photo/AP

At 37, Drysdale is now the oldest Kiwi to win an Olympic gold medal. He put his evergreen nature down to family and team support.

"You build up endurance over years and that doesn't leave you quickly. Then it's a matter of having youngsters around you. I've got good young people in our team and that keeps you on your toes and pushes you along."

"That keeps me going. It's really just a number - age. But I have started to feel it a bit more now. As I get older the recovery takes a bit longer."

"I must've have just got in front with a couple of strokes left when I threw in a couple of short ones," Drysdale said.

Drysdale also paid tribute to his training partners, double scullers Zoe Stevenson and Eve Macfarlane, who bowed out in the semifinals.

"I couldn't do it without them. It was sad to see them go out but great to get a 'team medal'.

"There was a lot riding on this one. This year there were a couple of dark days where you realise you don't recover as well as you get older, but I enjoyed the last three months."

He was met at the finish by his wife and 2012 Olympic pair bronze medallist Juliette, mum Robin and daughter Bronte, the latter sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with "Row, Row Daddy".

His uncle Doug Owens, the only one of his siblings not at Rio to root for Drysdale, said he was "absolutely ecstatic" for his nephew.

He and friends and family gathered yesterday afternoon for a toast to Drysdale's success.
Owens, who was at the London Olympics when Drysdale won his first gold, said after the last Games, he was not sure whether Drysdale would "go back for another crack at the medal".

"But he has climbed the mountain again. Will he do it again? I'm not sure I can answer that.

"He's got to be the oldest single sculler in the universe."

Owens said Drysdale would be "full of vim, vigour and confidence" after the race.

Drysdale has become New Zealand's oldest Olympic champion at 37 years, eight months and 25 days, taking over from sailor Chris Timms who won in the Tornado at Los Angeles in 1984 aged 37 years four months and 15 days.

He becomes the 12th New Zealander to achieve gold medals at consecutive Games.

Despite his uncle's hope, Drysdale now seems certain to retire from competitive rowing, although he wasn't rushing to confirm that.

"I'll take a holiday," he said when asked of his immediate plans. "Then after a few months off I'll work out what I'm going to do."

- Additional reporting NZ Herald