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Kiwi gold medallist Eric Murray's wife: I despised the sport

The wife of double Olympic gold medal-winning rower Eric Murray has lambasted Rowing New Zealand's "old-school mentality" over the couple's childbirth saga, saying it left her despising the sport.

Jackie Murray said she was left shaking and angry after a selector said her husband didn't need to be at her side for the birth of their first child before the 2011 world championships.

She believes the sport is still tainted by an archaic culture.

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"There's still an old school mentality and too many egos among the selectors. It was definitely an eye-opener. We sat on it for a long time. I despised the sport after getting treated that way."

Her comments follow revelations yesterday that her husband and rowing partner Hamish Bond almost had their rowing relationship severed before reaching the 2012 London Games.

Their new autobiography, The Kiwi Pair, claims the Murrays were called to a meeting at Lake Karapiro with Bond, Rowing New Zealand selector Conrad Robertson, high performance manager Alan Cotter and coach Dick Tonks to discuss Eric's desire to return home for the birth before the championships.

Jackie Murray was given medical advice she might not be able to carry a child because she had previously miscarried. The fact they were pregnant was a thrill.

The prospective parents were reassured by the governing body's chief executive Simon Peterson that Eric could return for the birth.

"Simon was fantastic at looking after his athletes," Jackie Murray told the Herald today. "He said he'd talk to the selectors and work something out. Unfortunately Simon was away when the meeting was called."

"We went in. All Eric wanted was to come back for a week. We didn't think he'd be back for the birth, but thought if he got on the plane when I went into labour at least he could spend a week with Zac.

"Eric walked in totally oblivious. Me, having been involved with rowing from day dot [Jackie's father Gary Robertson was a gold medal winner in the 1972 Munich eight], knew never to let my guard down [in rowing circles]."

Eric Murray and Hamish Bond win gold medal in the men's rowing pair final at Rio. Photo / AP
Eric Murray and Hamish Bond win gold medal in the men's rowing pair final at Rio. Photo / AP

Murray said the first thing that struck her as odd was that selector Athol Earl, a family friend and fellow Munich crewmate of her father, wasn't at the meeting.

"I knew Athol was in Cambridge so my instinct said something was going to happen. We sat down and Conrad went off. I was called selfish and inconsiderate. I was ruining Eric's rowing career and putting tension between him and Hamish."

That's when Robertson, the convenor of selectors and a 1984 Olympic coxless four gold medallist, said: "Men didn't come home from war just because women were having children."

"To see my wife demeaned in that way because we'd chosen to have a baby was absolutely appalling," Eric Murray wrote in his book.

Jackie Murray said today: "I was trying to make the point that I wasn't getting any younger. Conrad told me I didn't need Eric there and his No 1 priority was rowing. Then came the war comment. I thought 'what sort of mentality is this?' I was shaking thinking 'how dare you say this at a point in our lives when we're so happy? How dare you tell me I'm irresponsible and selfish for wanting to have a family?'

"Dick piped up at the end and said, we're not talking about a crew change, we're talking about a tour change and we'll work something out."

Robertson, who has been a selector for 20 years, told the Herald yesterday: "This is the first time it's been brought to my attention.

"We have many meetings with lots of crews, including the men's pair, for different reasons at various times. I can't recall this word-for-word at present but over the years there have been a number of issues that need serious discussion."

He declined to comment further today following Jackie Murray's comments.

Peterson's view contravenes that of Robertson.

"We dealt with it at the time and provided an apology to Eric and Jackie. It was completely inappropriate of Conrad and behaviour we couldn't accept. He's carried on as convenor, and that will be taken into account in our review of the Olympic cycle.

"I'm okay fronting up and saying it's not good enough. I have no issue with what's in the book because it's a statement of fact."

Once the Murrays left the meeting the selection panel asked Bond privately whether he wanted his crewmate removed. Bond wanted Murray.

Peterson was asked whether Robertson would continue in his role.

"I would challenge anyone to have the success he's had at world championship and Olympic level, but that doesn't give him the right to continue. There will be a formal review over the next three months."

The Murrays were humbled by the generosity of long-term rowing sponsors Derek and Judy Jones, who covered Eric's travel costs to and from Europe.

"They helped at a time when we didn't have the financial situation we have now. They sent him business-class which was incredible," Jackie Murray said.

The men's pair went on to win the world championships and maintain their unbeaten record until the present day.​

Zac Murray starts school next term.

* This story has been amended after an earlier version reported a claim in the book that selector Barrie Mabbott was at the 2011 meeting to decide whether Eric Murray could return to New Zealand for the birth of his son before the 2011 World Rowing Championships. This claim was incorrect. Publisher Penguin Random House NZ now says Murray has confirmed that Mabbott wasn't at the meeting. The Herald is happy to correct the record.

- NZ Herald

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