New Zealand rowing maestro Richard Tonks is a hard man to please, but when the world rowing championships ended at Lake Karapiro near Cambridge yesterday, there was more than the ghost of a smile hovering around his weather-beaten face.
The low-key hint of satisfaction at a job well done wasn't surprising. The 55-strong New Zealand team at the eight-day championships had extracted an all-time high of 10 medals, comprising three golds, three silver and four bronze.
"You've got to be pleased," Tonks said shortly after the championships closed yesterday, the first time in 32 years they have been held in New Zealand.
"We won one medal in 1978 - we've put a nought on the end of that. Ten medals is pretty good going."
Seven of the 10 crews which won medals were new combinations; the other three all won gold at last year's event in Poznan, Poland, when the New Zealand team returned home with four golds and a bronze.
Hamish Bond and Eric Murray in the pair, singles sculler Mahe Drysdale and the lightweight pair of Storm Uru and Peter Taylor returned to defend their titles with varying degrees of success. The inimitable Bond and Murray won gold, an injury-stricken Drysdale took silver, while Uru and Taylor picked up a consolation bronze after struggling to find top form in the week-long regatta.
Headlining the new combinations were Juliette Haigh and Rebecca Scown in the pair, and Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan in the double sculls, with top-line gold medal-winning performances.
Lightweight sculler Louise Ayling and the lightweight pair of James Lassche and Graham Oberlin-Brown won silver, while bronzes were picked up by Emma Twigg in the single sculls, Danny McBride in adaptive sculling and David Eade, Jade Uru, Hamish Burson and Simon Watson in the men's four.
While the results were satisfying, Tonks was even more pleasing was the depth shown across a wide range of disciplines.
"We had a men's eight, a women's eight and all the crews underneath that as well. It shows we've got good strength."
Momentum had built slowly but inexorably for the New Zealand team leading into the championships. A selected range of crews competed with modest success at the World Cup regattas over the European summer, followed by some trials before the world championship team was named and bedded in from late August training at Karapiro.
"It's been a long training period but it's really paid off. Right across the board, all our crews, none of them have failed to really fire," Tonks said.
"We haven't made the A final in a couple of events, but gee, we've done pretty well."
The team's spirit remained high over a winter which, Tonks admits, wasn't the easiest. "We had a lot of illness and injury, a couple of surgeries, and the wind and rain. But the rowers handled that right through, it didn't worry them at all."
Every one of the crews picked for the world championships earned a spot because of their standard, not due to convenience and the financial savings of holding the event in New Zealand. And, given their showing over the past eight days, prospects of a strong showing at the London 2012 Olympics were looking good.
"They can still improve on what they're doing - they can still train harder," Tonks said.
"You never know what the limits are, you can always push a bit harder. It's impossible to know what the potential of each person, each crew is."
He mentioned two of the newer crews in the squad as examples of how hard the rowers push themselves.
"The two new ones, the lightweight double (James Lassche and Graham Oberlin-Brown) and Louise Ayling, the lightweight sculler I used to go past them twice a day, and they were just pounding the shit out of it.
"That's why Louise got there and got that silver medal. Every time I saw her she was just yanking the hell out of the bloody boat all by herself. And all the crews do that."
In contrast, Tonks is adamant that his job is the easy one: "I just go training. What they do, it's pretty daunting, I don't know if I could have done it in my day - twice a day to go down there, and beat yourself as hard as you can on each stroke.
"They do a very good job, the young rowers. I just sit in my tin boat at the back - it's got a motor in it, it keeps up quite well actually."