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Divorce on the water becomes amicable

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Dick Tonks. Photo / Jana Dixon
Dick Tonks. Photo / Jana Dixon

Sense has prevailed in the Dick Tonks-Rowing New Zealand divorce.

The governing body will pay the sport's most successful coach upkeep until August to ensure single sculler Mahe Drysdale, and the likely women's double sculls combination of either Zoe Stevenson, Eve Macfarlane or Fiona Bourke, have the best chance of securing gold medals at the Rio Olympics.

Tonks will leave after that, bound for a future which will include no shortage of suitors as a coach who has mentored five Olympic gold medal-winning crews from the last four Games, with two more in the offing. He will work as an independent contractor outside the Rowing NZ's high performance programme, but his athletes will have full access to the facilities and resources.

The solution is equitable, pragmatic and achievable. No side lost face in the negotiations, although Tonks crossed into personal attacks when he said Peterson "couldn't run a bloody corner dairy".

For years, Tonks divided and ruled the rowing community with what some consider brutal methods, but no one can dispute his results.

Rather than continue the acrimony, Rowing NZ placed the ambitions of their athletes first, ensuring Tonks is afforded inclusivity in the Olympic campaign. As chief executive Simon Peterson suggested: "It would be unbecoming to do anything else". The risk of allocating new coaches seven months from the Games outweighed the reward.

Rowing NZ should benefit from yielding on principles which dictated they are a centralised programme with no room for outsiders.

Their athletes are satisfied amid a self-sustaining programme, albeit with taxpayer investment of $5.3 million. Four of their coaches -- Noel Donaldson, Calvin Ferguson, Gary Hay and Dave Thompson -- earned medals with crews at the 2015 world championships. The programme's strategy does not revolve around one man any more.

Rowing has become more than a cottage industry in New Zealand. This century, it has undergone a revolution with 68 Olympic or world championship medals since the Athens Games of 2004.

A number of athletes have found Tonks' methods difficult while others swear by them. Drysdale probably summed it best when it came to practical outcome: "If I'm pushed off the pontoon by Dick at Rio, then I've done everything I need to win gold."

That's all Rowing New Zealand needed to know.

- NZ Herald

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Covers sport across NZME's print, digital and radio brands.

Andrew writes and broadcasts on cricket and the Olympic disciplines for NZME's print, digital, video and radio platforms. His most recent project followed New Zealand sportspeople competing in Europe during the 2015 northern summer. He has attended four cricket World Cups, three Olympics and regularly works as a correspondent overseas.

Read more by Andrew Alderson

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