Rio Olympics 2016: Three key questions from NZ's Olympic rowing campaign

By David Leggat, Andrew Alderson

New Zealand's Mahe Drysdale collapses after winning the gold in the men's single sculls rowing final. Photo / AP
New Zealand's Mahe Drysdale collapses after winning the gold in the men's single sculls rowing final. Photo / AP

We ask two of our rowing experts three key questions surrounding New Zealand's rowing landscape.

1. Why did rowing's medal bonanza never really eventuate?

Andrew Alderson: Rowing New Zealand will already be scratching their heads over that complex question.

My answer is that a period of transition compromises them.

Rowing bosses might claim some medals weigh more than others as they seek long-term success in bigger boats. A maiden medal in the women's eight would have been an achievement to savour, as would a first medal in a men's eight since bronze in 1976. Fourth and sixth in those respective finals were credible efforts and they're committed to the eights until Tokyo.

The flipside is that four years from London the sport is relying on their same blue chip 30-something stocks - Mahe Drysdale, Eric Murray, Hamish Bond and Rebecca Scown, with 25-year-old Genevieve Behrent the exception - to secure medals.

Are enough talented young rowers being retained in the system? The under-23 and junior programmes of recent years would suggest so.

The reality is a prune to funding is likely because they were marked down for at least five medals to match or better London. HPSNZ funding of $32.069 million ($19.815 million plus investment in athlete support services and PEGs) across the Rio cycle is a relative fortune by New Zealand standards.

David Leggat: Let's be fair here. The unspoken subtext is that New Zealand had some God-given right to a pile of Olympic medals on the water.

Due respect, but bollocks to that. Other countries are allowed to triumph at the biggest quadrennial show. And what the New Zealand return certainly showed is that those wild theories about how many medals New Zealand would win in rowing were wide of the mark, and didn't give enough credence to the fact that plenty of other countries were setting out their stall, tailoring their buildup to peak at the right time.

It also rams home, once again, how seriously hard it is to win an Olympic medal, whatever has gone on in the previous three years.

2. Did some countries play possum at the last world champs?

AA: That happens to a degree. Other countries, whose programmes are not necessarily fulltime professional, opt to invest in the latter years of the Olympic cycle. New Zealand topped the world championships medal table in 2014 and were second to Britain in 2015.

New Zealand's ambitious (and commendable) aim of qualifying 14 boat classes was not met. Eventually 11 boats qualified which filtered into eight finalists and three medallists. The crucial question is: are the New Zealand public happy with a 21 percent return on investment (i.e. three Olympic medals from 14 possibilities)?

New Zealand's two golds and a silver places them second-equal on the medal table with Germany, and behind only Britain (three golds and two silvers).

DL: Quite possibly. But then again, countries like to get a credible take on how they are travelling a year out from an Olympics.

Try and box too clever and you can get bitten. The first two years into the four-year Olympic cycles, athletes can take either a year off, or a relaxed approach into worlds. Not in the third year.

Sure, some countries might have, but it's the best chance countries get to really gauge progress. And in any case, if New Zealand, to extrapolate the question, sat back and assumed they were quids in for a bonanza more fool them.

3. Has the Tonks schemozzle had some downstream effects on morale and performance?

AA: Sources say it has had a divisive effect at times, much like the Emma Twigg stand-off last year over whether she could train and study overseas outside the centralised programme.

The upshot is that Mahe Drysdale insisted he wanted Tonks as part of his campaign and a compromise was reached. The result is a gold medal. The flipside is that Tonks' other crew, the defending world champion double scullers Eve Macfarlane and Zoe Stevenson, exited in the semi-finals. This will require a further examination when the Rio campaign is debriefed.

The double scullers are not alone. Other questions also need asking:

Why did defending world champions Julia Edward and Sophie MacKenzie slip to fourth in the lightweight double sculls final?

Why did men's double scullers Robbie Manson and Chris Harris miss their final, despite winning their final World Cup at Poznan in the build-up?

Why did the lightweight four of James Hunter, James Lassche, Peter Taylor and Alistair Bond finish fifth, given they had earned two world championship silvers and a fourth since 2013 and won both this season's World Cups?

In addition, Rowing New Zealand must work out how to fill the Tonks void after 17 years' employment and many others volunteering. He won one or more gold medals at each Olympics in which he was employed. That feat will be hard to match.

DL: No. It didn't seem to affect Mahe Drysdale. The women's double were happy to push on with Tonks.

They could have voiced concerns at the time, if they had any, but didn't. Tonks' part in the Olympic preparation in terms of on water work was limited to them. So no, to suggest his stoush with Rowing New Zealand affected, say, the men's quad or eights crews doesn't bounce at all.

They had their own coaches, their own specific programmes. Whatever Tonks and his two crews were doing was their business. You can't tell me the other crews were fretting or somehow put off their stroke by Tonks' presence, of the dustup between Rowing New Zealand and the coach.

If they were, it doesn't say much about their ability to focus solely on what was in front of them.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 30 May 2017 16:09:21 Processing Time: 368ms