Gold medal winner Mahe Drysdale has paid tribute to the departing Dick Tonks as the controversial coach signed off on his Olympic rowing career.

"I couldn't have done it without him," Drysdale said of Tonks after the singles sculls veteran successfully defended his Olympic crown with back-to-back gold medal triumphs.

"I don't think the whole New Zealand rowing programme would be where it is without him.

"(It's) his sixth Olympic gold medal. It's pretty special. I'm really happy to do it for him as much as for me."

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Tonks fell out spectacularly with Rowing New Zealand earlier this year and is set to go his separate ways with the national sports organisation now the Rio regatta is over. But Drysdale successfully sought an exemption for Tonks to coach him in Brazil.

"If I'd lost Dick then, there was a chance I could have done it," Drysdale said when asked how much difference Tonks had made to his success in Brazil. "But it puts a lot more variables in the mix and that's not what you want.

"As I said then my best chance in Rio was to be pushed off the pontoon in Rio by Dick.

"He pushed me off the pontoon today and I came back with a gold medal....he's certainly a massive part of my success over the years."

At 37, Drysdale is now the oldest Kiwi to win an Olympic gold medal. He put his evergreen nature down to family and team support.

"You build up endurance over years and that doesn't leave you quickly. Then it's a matter of having youngsters around you. I've got good young people in our team and that keeps you on your toes and pushes you along."

"That keeps me going. It's really just a number - age. But I have started to feel it a bit more now. As I get older the recovery takes a bit longer."

Drysdale now seems certain to retire from competitive rowing, although he wasn't rushing to confirm that.

"I'll take a holiday," he said when asked of his immediate plans. "Then after a few months off I'll work out what I'm going to do."