Sport, best of the year: 2 World Championship rowers

By David Leggat

Had it not been for Michael Campbell's massive year, they would have been the lay down misere for every top gong going.

Four successive world championship finals, four gold medals. Just brilliant.

New Zealand's rowing squad produced the finest 45 minutes of competitive sport in this country's history at Gifu, Japan on September 3. At the Athens Olympics a year earlier, New Zealand crews made five finals, winning one gold, the double scull of Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell.

That laid a platform for Gifu. Head coach Dick Tonks oversaw a campaign that pushed New Zealand to the forefront of rowing nations.

Tactically, Tonks, a low-key man with the knack of producing champions, had a simple message for his crews: start strong, stay strong - try to maintain a strong and consistent pace throughout the gruelling 2000m.

And his rowers carried out the instruction to a T. Single-sculler Mahe Drysdale got things going at 12.30pm in the seventh A final of the day, leading from the 500m mark to carry on the work of Olympic and world champion Rob Waddell in one of the blue riband events of the sport.

Drysdale won in 7m 16.42s, almost two seconds clear of Olympic champion Olaf Tufte of Norway. Next up, Juliette Haigh and Nicky Coles in the coxless pair. Remember, they took a dunking in their heat at Athens, then recovered to make the final.

This time there were no mishaps as they led from halfway and won in 7m 43.83s, more than 3s in front of Australians Sarah Outhwaite and Natalie Bale.

Men's pair Nathan Twaddle and George Bridgewater, who had been in superb form going into the regatta, were totally dominant, clocking 6m 52.51s, leading all the way to win by 3s.

And the Evers-Swindells, no longer the solitary gold medal hope, rounded it all off at 1.15pm in the women's double scull, in front from 500m, recording 7m 08.03.

Naturally all eyes are now on Beijing and the 2008 Olympics, but there's much to do between now and then. Sitting back and dwelling on a golden afternoon won't do.

So how big was the Gifu haul? To put some context on it, New Zealand had won just nine medals at previous worlds, going back 43 years. No country had won four golds since the East Germans 18 years ago.

Tonks is contracted through to Beijing. Funding is in place. So all seems set.

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