Olympics: Pair's common bond

The New Zealand rowing coxless pair, three-times world champions Eric Murray and Hamish Bond, are confident favourites. Picture / Brett Phibbs
The New Zealand rowing coxless pair, three-times world champions Eric Murray and Hamish Bond, are confident favourites. Picture / Brett Phibbs

Eric Murray had a hit around Tirau Golf Club with Mahe Drysdale recently. He hit in the low 90s, Drysdale somewhere in the mid-80s.

A thought occurred to Murray: if they put as much time into their golf as they did their rowing, they'd be playing off scratch before long.

A thought occurred to me: if they put as much time and effort into particle physics as they did rowing, the Higgs boson would have been discovered a lot earlier.

Eric Murray, 30, is one half of the pair with Hamish Bond, 26. They arrive at the Olympic regatta on Dorney Lake as overwhelming favourites to win gold for two reasons.

First, they have never been beaten across the finish line as a pair. Secondly, their closest rivals - if you can call a clash where only one team wins a rivalry - have given up, with Andy Triggs Hodge and Pete Reed instead being placed in Great Britain's four.

You'd think that sort of expectation would begin to weigh heavily, but there is no sag in these shoulders.

"That's what happens when you're successful," says Murray. If they're playing to stereotype, he's the more gregarious one, the sort who could sport whiskers straight out of a 1970s Australian cricket team without a shred of self-consciousness. "God, the All Blacks get expectation on them every week. You've got to win, got to win, got to win. People just expect them to and when they don't they blame this person, blame that person.

"For us, we've just got to put all the preparation in. From now on there's a not a lot more we can actually do."

Except row really fast for 2km. The thing is, they know they're going to do that. It's not arrogance; it's what all their training, preparation and past performances have told them. They know they'll be fast and they know they'll be hard to beat.

If a pair, such as Canadians Scott Frandsen and Dave Calder, come from nowhere for the performance of their lives it might be close, but they're still going to back themselves to figure a way to get across the line first. It's what they did every time they stared down Triggs Hodge and Reed.

"We can take anyone else's destiny and do anything with it," Murray says of the British pair's decision to move back to the four. "If they perceived it was better to be in the four, then good on them. I guess for us it was great having them there because we were always trying to beat them. The rivalry was actually really good."

Bond agrees: "Because [the British media] kept saying they were going to beat us and we were like, 'no way, bugger off'. I don't know if it was coming from them or not, but we perceived it to be coming from them. It helped us."

The absence of the Brits does not mean complacency has crept in. Already Murray sees new challengers - and challenges.

"The British and us were out in front," Murray said. "We were clear on third and fourth, fifth and sixth. What's happening now is they're seeing how fast we're going and they've stepped it up. We raised the benchmark and everyone else is trying to reach it.

"That's the great thing with rowing. When benchmarks are set, like back in the day with Redgrave and Pinsent, everyone's thinking, 's***, if they're going that fast we're going to have to train harder to make sure we're competitive. That's what is happening now and I definitely think the field has got a lot quicker in the last three years."

The pair have a language all of their own on the water. Murray is the caller.

"They would be completely meaningless to anybody else, but I know what he means," Bond says. "They're just key words, I guess, as far as our technique is concerned and what we want to focus on."

For eight months of the year they live side by side. The other four months they might cross paths - Cambridge is a small town - but they don't seek each other out.

For a pair who have a shared language, a burning desire to win and an uncanny knack of knowing when the other needs picking up, they don't, according to someone who knows them well, have a lot else in common.

"Not really," Murray says. "Two completely different lives. I'm married with a child and Hamish has got his partner and we do completely different things around Cambridge. We might bump into each other but we live in each other's pockets eight months of the year."

"And we're with each other five or six hours a day," Bond chips in. "We've got enough time to talk to each other during the day without making more of it."

They might see life through a different viewfinder, but they're part of the same "evolution". Both are acutely aware that they are part of a programme that is arguably the most successful sporting enterprise in New Zealand history outside the All Blacks.

Bond believes there is no reason Rowing New Zealand should not continue to produce winners.

"Success breeds success largely," he says, referencing New Zealand's strength through the 60s and 70s.

"We had some pioneers, I guess ... In 2000, Rob Waddell won the single in Sydney and then the Evers-Swindell twins won '04 and '08.

"Everyone used them as a benchmark within the squad. People looked at them and went, 'okay, they're winning internationally, what are they doing?' We replicated that and tweaked it. Now we've got multiple world championship crews.

"It's been an evolution and we've been lucky to have some naturally talented people as well, but talent's nothing, at the end of the day you've got to work bloody hard to make use of it."

"You've got to have the attitude, too," Murray adds. "Everyone here has big personalities, so whatever pain you get put in front of you, you've just got to do it. It sometimes seems pretty bizarre what we do."

Bond says there are days he wakes up and the thought of seeing a boat or even water repulses him.

"But that's what makes champions. The ability to say: 'Let's go and do it again.' Those are the rows that really count. The ones when you don't want to be there ... to be able to go out there and work hard and try and go faster when it's not fun and it's not enjoyable, that's probably the making of a fast crew."

Complacent? Doesn't sound like it.

- NZ Herald

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