Sportsperson of the Year Finalists: Hamish Bond and Eric Murray

By David Leggat

Every day this week we feature the finalists for the Herald Sportsperson of the Year. The top sportsperson will be revealed in the Weekend Herald on Saturday.

Eric Murray and Hamish Bond celebrate their gold medal. Photo / Christine Cornege
Eric Murray and Hamish Bond celebrate their gold medal. Photo / Christine Cornege

For years, Mahe Drysdale's almost complete dominance of the single scull event has given New Zealand a near-banker for victory at the big rowing regattas.

That mantle shifted for the world championships at the freshly-renovated Lake Karapiro last month, partly down to Drysdale having had an injury-hit leadup but also the dominance of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray in the coxless pair.

Since taking on the seat at the start of the 2009 season, the pair had beaten their toughest rivals, Brits Peter Reed and Andy Triggs Hodge in 10 successive regattas, including last year's world champs in Poland.

That statistic meant in one sense it should not have been a close-run thing; instead it was one of the stellar head-to-head events of the sporting year.

No one else was within cooee of the two combinations, and expectation was strong that the blond Kiwis - Bond possessing a more serious demeanour than his wise-cracking, outgoing bowman - would do the business.

Added into the mix was the suspicion that while there was clearly substantial respect for each other's abilities - Reed and Triggs Hodge had won an Olympic gold in the coxless four at Beijing in 2008 - they weren't necessarily on each other's Christmas card lists.

The Brits talked a good game, even while coming second regatta after regatta, and you had to admire their spirit. Theirs is a glass half full outlook.

The two met in the semifinals at Karapiro, and New Zealand, coached by the renowned Dick Tonks, won by seven seconds but both eased off well before the finish.

"We're not here to win the silver medal," Reed said afterwards. "No one else in the field can upset the first two places.

"It's just a case of which way round it's going to be."

So the stage was set. It proved one of those days when the occasion matched the hype.

Bond and Murray made a sluggish start but there was precious little between the pairs all the way down the 2000m course.

With the packed stands cheering Bond and Murray to the echo, they got the job done, just, getting up in the last couple of strokes.

The winning margin was just .32s - 6m 30.16s to 6m 30.48s - and took the unbeaten record to 12.

"We've got the experience and it was really good to be able to use our heads to stay cool," said Murray.

Reed doffed his cap to the New Zealanders. "They're an outstanding pair. We're an outstanding pair, but by a little bit less," he acknowledged.

After next year's campaign, it's the London Olympics. This rivalry has got plenty of legs in it.

- NZ Herald

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