Olympics: Drysdale relaxed and ready for a win

By David Leggat

New Zealand rower Mahe Drysdale in action in Heat 4 of the Men's Single Sculls, at Eton Dorney during the 2012 London Olympics. 28 July 2012 New Zealand Herald Photograph by Brett Phibbs &#
New Zealand rower Mahe Drysdale in action in Heat 4 of the Men's Single Sculls, at Eton Dorney during the 2012 London Olympics. 28 July 2012 New Zealand Herald Photograph by Brett Phibbs &#

Mahe Drysdale's rowing world collapsed in Beijing four years ago.

He collapsed too, having to be hauled out of his boat after finishing third in the Olympic Games single scull final.

Drysdale, world champion for the three previous years, became ill after wearing the heavy ceremonial cloak on a steamy night at the opening ceremony in Beijing.

He rowed a gallant final but finished in awful physical shape.

The tall Aucklander can laugh about it now, at least up to a point.

"Four years ago I was throwing up and on my way to the Olympic Village hospital. The preparation's been a lot better this time," he quipped.

Tonight is his chance to make up. Drysdale and Czech Republic sculler Ondrej Synek are the decisive favourites for gold and silver. Drysdale suggested a few days ago the younger man would be slight favourite, but there's precious little in it.

He won't call tonight redemption; that's not his mindset. He simply wants to achieve the goal he's striven for over the last eight years.

"That [Beijing] is not really a motivation. I do it for other reasons and want to be the best I can be," he said yesterday after winning his semifinal.

"It's not necessarily redemption. You learn from what happens to you. Beijing taught me a lot of lessons and you only get a couple of opportunities at this in your life so you've got to make the most of them."

Drysdale and Synek have split the three world championship titles since Beijing, the New Zealander prevailing in 2009 and last year; Synek at Lake Karapiro in the year between.

There are others tonight who'll want to have a say in events, most particularly Britain's Alan Campbell, a fast starter hoping to get a helping hand from the packed stands, and colourful German Marcel Hacker, who's been known to make animal noises on the startline to psyche himself up.

Drysdale, at 33, four years older than the Czech, insists he'll be relaxed and ready for tonight. "I'm a relaxed sort of guy, so that's generally pretty easy for me. It's been a good build-up so I can relax and enjoy the final."

His partner, Juliette Haigh, was part of the bronze medal-winning coxless pair on Wednesday night. Drysdale quipped that he needed something to regain bragging rights.

Haigh has won three world titles and an Olympic bronze. Drysdale is "only" two world crowns ahead of her, as he put it.

He has had hiccups on the journey to tonight's race. Back problems forced a change in his training routine after Beijing. Around half of it is spent cycling instead of total on-water work.

He was knocked off his bike by a car just before the Munich world cup regatta in June, and skipped that event.

But he believes he's in good shape and is confident that Dorney Lake, where he set a world best time in 2006 and has rowed many times, is a place he can fulfil his ambition. He's ticked all the boxes, has a centre lane and feels ready.

"This is what I've been building to for four years, so it's a matter of going out and trying to execute as well as I can," he said.

It will almost certainly be his final chance for everlasting Olympic fame. There was a strange kind of glory for Drysdale in Beijing. A more straightforward version is the aim this time.

ROWING

What: Men's single sculls final

When: 11.30 tonight live on SS6

- NZ Herald

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