Munich sets stage for Olympic glory

By Daniel Gilhooly

More triumphs for rowing, but there was one coat of gloss removed in 2007 by the sacking of the sport's mover and shaker.

Controversy made a rare incursion into New Zealand's most expectant Olympic sport when chief executive Craig Ross lost his job for financial misrepresentation.

His resignation came in the wake of yet another outstanding world championships, where New Zealand's three-gold, two-silver campaign in Munich to top the medal table was arguably their best ever showing.

For four years, Ross had played a major part in restoring the black singlet as among the most respected in the sport.

But he was forced to quit after it was found he had used gaming trust funds to buy overseas rather than New Zealand-made boats.

It left a sour taste but couldn't detract from the golden performances of single sculler Mahe Drysdale, lightweight Duncan Grant and the men's four of Carl Meyer, James Dallinger, Eric Murray and Hamish Bond.

And seven New Zealand crews qualified boats for next year's Olympic Games in Beijing.

Drysdale, who began the year by winning the 2006 Halberg Supreme Award, was once again the New Zealand standardbearer at the Oberschleissheim course, dominating the final to secure a third consecutive world crown.

Victory allayed fears his crown might be slipping when he placed fourth at the World Cup final in Amsterdam.

The unheralded four were last at the halfway mark at Munich but stormed home to beat a swag of more credentialled opponents.

Their singing of the national anthem when the sound system broke down sparked memories of the emotional scenes when New Zealand won the Olympic eights gold on the same Munich course in 1972.

Grant's win was the most predictable as he dominated the lightweight singles all year but he is unfortunate the class won't be competed for at Beijing.

The silvers went to consistent men's pair Nathan Twaddle and George Bridgewater, and women's double sculling twins Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell.

The sisters suffered early-season injury problems and will need a smooth buildup to Beijing if they are the challenge Chinese bolters Qin Li and Liang Tian - who beat them three times this year.

There was also a glimpse to the future when women's single sculler Emma Twigg reached the final, as did men's double scullers Matthew Trott and Nathan Cohen.

Twigg, 20, and Cohen, 21, in particular are among the brightest stars on the New Zealand rowing horizon.

A New Zealand men's eights crew was fielded for the first time in nearly a decade but, like the women's eight, found the going tough at Munich and at World Cup meets in Amsterdam and Lucerne.

They are both regarded long-term prospects and important in building depth.

There is no shortage of junior talent emerging judging by results at the world under-23 championships in Scotland.

Twigg, Joseph Sullivan and Storm Uru (lightweight) all won single sculls gold medals while the four claimed a silver.

The year ended in intrigue when former Olympic champion and multiple world champion Rob Waddell hopped back in a row boat after six years grinding for the Team New Zealand (TNZ) America's Cup crew.

He is still contracted with TNZ but has set his sets on what could be a stunning return to the top flight at Beijing.

Waddell pipped Drysdale in an early-season regatta this month, setting up what could be a massive rivalry in 2008.


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