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Rowing: Facing down the 'regatta of death'

George Bridgewater (second from right) and the New Zealand quad crew missed Olympic qualification by 0.05s last year. PHOTOSPORT
George Bridgewater (second from right) and the New Zealand quad crew missed Olympic qualification by 0.05s last year. PHOTOSPORT

As a 33-year-old former Olympic bronze medallist, George Bridgewater could be forgiven for contemplating love handles rather than oar handles building a life back in New Zealand with wife Rachel, a former national coxswain, and their two pre-school children.

Instead, he will head to the familiar surroundings of Lucerne, a staple on the rowing calendar, to compete in an unfamiliar event, the 'regatta of death'.

Alongside crewmates Jade Uru, Nathan Flannery and John Storey, he will compete for the two remaining men's quadruple sculls spots at the Rio Olympics.

The crew, with Karl Manson rather than Flannery, missed qualifying at last year's world championships by 0.05s with third place in the B final.

"We were this far away," Bridgewater says, extending his hands in front of him like a modest fisherman. "But that isn't relevant now. It's a completely new game in Olympic year."

Bridgewater secured bronze in the men's pair with Nathan Twaddle at the 2008 Beijing Olympics before pursuing an MBA at Oxford University, triumphing in the 2009 Boat Race against Cambridge and working as an equity trader in Hong Kong and Singapore for five years. As a self-made man, Bridgewater sacrificed his place on the corporate ladder. He returned to Waikato, started a nutrition enterprise and rebuilt his endurance on Lake Karapiro.

The dream began with a 2014 tweet: "Today I quit my office chair to go back to a seat the size of an exercise book. 2yrs till Rio. Nervous as hell, but got to scratch the itch."

Bridgewater's commitment has never been in question. There have been times after finals when he needed medical assistance because his mind and body disagreed on the location of his pain barrier.

However, a New Zealand men's quad has never won a world championship or Olympic medal and Bridgewater is sculling rather than emulating his sweep oar success.

He has an inkling of what to expect when they contest their heat around 1pm at the Rotsee on May 22.

"I've been at Lucerne when a regatta of death is going on. It's not pleasant. Even if you win, 80 per cent of the boat park has not succeeded.

"It's black and white and we've only got a short build-up time. Our coach Mike Rodger has successfully been before, so he should help with some sage advice."

The time away from family also creates a dilemma.

"Last year, it was tough being away for three months with the kids so young, but if it's that long this year, at least we'll be on our way to Rio."

That's something he can get a handle on.

- Herald on Sunday

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