Crunch time for king of the water

By Rebecca Blithe

He was our Olympic golden boy. Past disappointments left not even a ripple in his waters as the nation watched him streak ahead to win his long deserved gold. Now, three months on, Rebecca Blithe looks at what's next in the colourful career of Mahe Drysdale, what he thinks about moving into coaching and why it's important for him to have a fallback plan.

Mahe Drysdale says he's not interested in coaching: "I think I'd always rather be out there on the water myself." Photo / Brett Phibbs
Mahe Drysdale says he's not interested in coaching: "I think I'd always rather be out there on the water myself." Photo / Brett Phibbs

Catching the athlete just before he sets off for Sydney, it's a humble voice that comes down the phone line, "I still haven't felt like my feet have touched the earth yet. I'm still buzzing from the games."

And the reception when he arrived home was a little overwhelming to the five-time world champion and Olympic gold medallist.

"It's been huge, absolutely awesome," he said.

"It's bigger than I thought it might be. I was very aware of a lot of support, but I didn't realise just how many people [were behind me] and the fact that everyone was watching."

Life after the games has been a lot different, says Drysdale. A new Audi has been the most recent gift.

"It has been a pretty exciting time. I've been travelling right round the country, catching up with everyone, sharing the medal and my story with people.

"We've built in holidays with events, a long weekend in Queenstown, I've been up north for a bit. "Even though he's off to Boston for a race, then to London, and has a string of engagements still lined up, he says he's reminding himself things won't always be this way.

"Life can't continue on like this forever. Eventually I'll need to make some decisions. Come December, I'll make the call as to whether or not I pull the pin.

"At this stage I'm leaning towards continuing, but eventually I'll need to think about what I want to do next," says Drysdale, who at 34 notes he entered rowing professionally as a comparatively late contender.

He took up the sport "as a bit of fun" while at university, gave up for two years and returned to the water in 2000. The following year he was one of eight selected by Rowing NZ and by 2003 had made the Elite Coxless Fours for the World Championships and then the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004.

Three years later he had moved to London, begun training in the single scull and become the first male single sculler to win three world titles.

Qualifying for the 2008 Olympics meant taking out seasoned rowing star Rob Waddell for the single sculls spot, which he did and was picked as flag bearer for his country.

While he's well known for his somewhat unfortunate setbacks - a fractured back from being crashed into by a water-skier while training on Lake Karapiro, a cycling accident and a severe stomach bug at the Beijing Olympics where he still managed a bronze - it's been a fighting spirit that has seen him through.

It is his first love and a career that has taken him around the world, fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming an Olympian and made him a household name. So what might be next for the athlete who has overcome more than most to get his gold.

One thing is for certain, says Drysdale, having a fallback plan is crucial in a field where your time could be up at any moment.

"The sporting industry is a pretty scary existence. Your career can end overnight, if you're not selected, if you have an injury you can't recover from, you're gone."

Drysdale studied accounting at university and says having the option to go into the field at some point in the future is a relief of sorts.

"Studying while training is a really good option. I'm partly trained as an accountant so it's been a huge weight off my shoulders knowing there's a job there if I want it. It's a sense of security. Because the reality is, it would be really hard at my age, or in four years time, to go and completely retrain in a new field.

"I'm going to need to figure out what I want to do, maybe find a new challenge. The last few years, given my age, I have thought about potential career alternatives. A few different people have approached me with options, but nothing's really grabbed me as a really good alternative."

It might seem an obvious move to step into coaching, but not so for Drysdale.

"Personally, it's not something that sort of lights my fire. It's a huge commitment and I'm not that way inclined. I'm a pretty competitive person, I think I'd always rather be out there on the water myself."

A change in career may also see him move away from Cambridge, he says, and deciding by December whether he'll push on to train for Rio is a self-imposed deadline.

"It's up to me, but there'll be a lot of talking with family, and friends, and my coach, Dick Tonks. I'm not one to go into something unless I can give 100 per cent. I want to keep improving; I don't want to spend the next four years losing."

Drysdale says it will ultimately come down to how he feels out there on the water. "It's always been for the enjoyment of it, I'll get out there and I'll either have that huge burning desire for it, or I won't."

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 21 Dec 2014 10:56:41 Processing Time: 434ms