Olympics: Beijing all the motivation that Drysdale needs

By David Leggat

Mahe Drysdale. Photo / AP.
Mahe Drysdale. Photo / AP.

Tick a couple of boxes in Mahe Drysdale's favour as he prepares for another tilt at Olympic gold in London.

The five-time world single-sculls champion will be racing at a venue where he has never lost.

Drysdale knows the Eton Dorney course an hour out of London well from his time living in London. He won his second world crown there in 2006.

It is also where he set the world best time, 6m 35.40s, a record he eclipsed with a 6m 33.35s time in Poland in 2009.

Now consider that at the Lucerne World Cup regatta late last month it was evident that, at 33, he remains one of the top chances for a gold medal which illness may have robbed him of in Beijing four years ago.

At Lucerne, Drysdale and Czech Republic hot-shot Ondrej Synek duelled hard and well clear of the rest of the field, the Czech winning by just .52s.

Still it was clear: they are odds-on, health and fitness permitting, to be scrapping for the gold - with double Olympic champion Olaf Tufte of Norway yet to show his hand this year - on August 3 at Eton.

Drysdale has overcome a debilitating back problem and his regimen is different now from seven years ago when he won his first world title in Japan, as part of the celebrated four golds in 45 minutes for New Zealand.

About half his training time is spent on a bike. It's different, but it's working.

There was a hiccup in March, when as Drysdale put it "I probably didn't quite listen to my body", and he was sidelined for several days.

Now it's all about management, being aware of the signs and taking care.

The sight of a distressed Drysdale at the finish line in Beijing, stricken by illness through the week but gamely hanging on for a bronze, was among the most vivid images of New Zealand's Games in 2008.

Drysdale doesn't think of the back story to the final that day, but the outcome.

"It's one of those things that happened and I got over it in 2008. It's the final result more than what happened and you do everything to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"Not winning in Beijing is a motivator.

"Every time I'm out there struggling for training I think how much it hurts to lose and that gets you over the line to finish the session."

Drysdale hopes to be part of New Zealand's finest Olympic rowing regatta this year.

First, though, there's the final World Cup regatta in Munich, starting next Friday, and some sharpening up in performance is needed from several crews after the Lucerne event.

However, it's worth remembering that eight of New Zealand's 11 Olympic crews finished on the podium at last year's world championships in Bled, Slovenia.

"We've got a much more experienced and stronger team than last time. There's definitely a shift within the thinking process. Everyone is going in well prepared and ready to win medals."

That said, Drysdale knows in Olympic year every nation worth its salt steps up. He remembers the four world champions in Japan seven years ago, and how that became just the one gold a year later.

Drysdale is heading to his third Olympics - he was in a four in Athens in 2004 - and is well versed in the appropriate psychology to apply.

"Every time you go to an Olympics you've got to treat it as if it's your last. You don't want to come away and go 'it's all right, I'll do it in four years' time.' This is being treated as if it's my last race."

After events in Beijing, a gold at Eton would make a perfect finale.

- NZ Herald

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