Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Rowing: Drysdale falls short

Olympic champion pays price for sabbatical in failing to progress at world titles.

Mahe Drysdale is suffering from a rib injury after being thrown from his bike when he hit a light truck. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Mahe Drysdale is suffering from a rib injury after being thrown from his bike when he hit a light truck. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Since turning to the single sculls in 2005, Mahe Drysdale has always been a banker for Rowing New Zealand.

He had never missed a world championship or Olympic podium, recording gold, gold, gold, bronze, gold, silver, gold and gold at each year's pinnacle event. An impeccable record ... until yesterday.

The Olympic champion paid the price for his sabbatical in failing to progress beyond the world championship quarter-finals. Despite climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, completing a coast-to-coast and enduring an Ironman in the interim, Drysdale admitted the lack of base kilometres from specific rowing training was the key factor in his failure.

A sense of helplessness pervaded the last 250m on his way to finishing fourth.

He was second through the 1500m mark in one of the tougher quarter-finals but could not muster his customary sprint. The 34-year-old was eclipsed by Azerbaijani Aleksandar Aleksandrov and Bulgarian Georgi Bozhilov over the final strokes.

The race was won by German Marcel Hacker. The top three qualified for tomorrow's semifinals.

Drysdale's limited training was compounded by a rib injury suffered when he was thrown from his bike on impact with a light truck upon arrival in Korea last week. A breakfast of painkillers could not mask the damage. Post-race Drysdale was freshly bandaged up, still recovering.

"It hasn't been a smooth run since I got here. It was too early to try to push myself, I didn't have the pace. The majority of the problem lies in a lack of training over the last 10 months. It was a fair reflection of where I'm at. I didn't have what I needed to move away from the field.

"After the heat I couldn't row the next day because the problem flared up - so I jumped on the bike. I was on painkillers today but once I tried to breathe heavily it felt like someone was stabbing me in the side every stroke. The second 1000m was when it started to hurt, right when you're hurting from racing itself. I've overcome a rib stress fracture to set a world best time in 2009 but I had a lot more base training behind me."

Drysdale says coach Dick Tonks understands his situation.

"Ultimately the reason I didn't get through was the miles. There's no secret about that but it can be remedied.

"Being in the C and D semifinals is not ideal but I can be philosophical looking at the past year by saying I had a great time. I still feel confident I can get back to my best. It's probably a fair reflection of three months' training. If you asked 'would I give up time off to make the final?' I probably would take today's result. A break comes with risk."

Drysdale had concerns with the draw, prompting him to offer a couple of pre-race opinions on Twitter.

"@WorldRowing I thought Quarter finals were supposed to make sure the best Rowers make the A Final, then you stack 4 A Finalists in one race."

He also predicted what he'd face.

"Looks like will have to pull all stops out in Quarters tomorrow, just to make semi. Going to be a tough race #wishingIFinishedSecondInHeat!"

Drysdale's friend and double Olympic single sculls champion Olaf Tufte responded: "@MaheDrysdale if you want to win. You have to beat them all anyway. Beat them twice. Shows you are the real winner."

Like Drysdale, former lightweight men's single sculling champion Duncan Grant finished fourth in his quarter-final so failed to pro-gress.

The women's eight finished third behind Britain and the Netherlands in the repechage to miss the final by 0.85s.

Andrew Alderson travelled to South Korea courtesy of Rowing New Zealand's principal partner Bankstream.

- NZ Herald

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