Mahe takes Webb trophy home again

By Jared Smith




The Billy Webb Challenge trophy will continue its role as the glass conversational piece which sits on Mahe Drysdale's window sill.

The 34-year-old belied his pre-race talk of lacking fitness with a clinical performance against the star-studded Olympic field yesterday by pulling away over the second half of the 5km course to rack up his third Billy Webb Challenge victory.

Drysdale is truly the straw that stirs the drink for the success of this festival as it was his persuasion which brought his fellow gold medallists to compete out-of-season on the tough course as a thank you to New Zealand's rowing public for all their support.

And they made it an occasion to remember as special guest Swedish Olympian Lassi Karonen made a determined challenge for the first 2km row to Aramaho, while Nathan Cohen was hiding in the reeds shepherding the two and looking to find the moment for his signature sprint finish.

The competition was intense as Cohen and Drysdale's boats came a little too close for comfort at times as Karonen sat in clear water on the dash to the Railway Bridge.

Drysdale kept his cool, fighting hard to defend his line beside the riverbank, all the while keeping a drafting Cohen at bay.

Coming to the halfway point Drysdale made his move upping his stroke rate and as Cobham Bridge approached was starting to show he had the wood on the big Swede.

Striding along, Drysdale was in commanding form as he passed the Kowahi Park section of the river, able to take a few breaths and look around as Cohen and Karonen now fought a private battle four lengths back.

As expected, Cohen flew home to take secondary line honours, Karonen having to settle for third after a brave race.

Eric Murray and then Joe Sullivan finished well back off the pace.

Drysdale dismissed the idea he had made it look easy in fact "dying" on the line as Cohen loomed up.

"It was a very, very tough race and full credit to the other guys to come here with the training that we've done and then race like that.

"It was hell for me but I knew if I got in front they might think I was gone.

"Not training as much as I'd like, it makes it hard to pace yourself.

"You've got to find your rhythm, find your course, get into something you can maintain."

Talk inevitably turned to his future and if he still has the fire in the belly to continue his career.

Saying he was "not quite there" yet when it came to committing to another four years for the next Olympics, at any rate the 34-year-old said it had been a good hit out on the river and he was pleased to be able to take part.

For Cohen, as a specialist double sculler it might have been nice to upset the singles king, as he had hoped to get ahead and dictate his line on the river.

"Being realistic today, the way he took off it wasn't an option.

As "kind of a local" on these waters, he was sweating on Karonen making a mistake with either the turns or the currents then it was a matter of taking his opportunity.

But really, Cohen said the motivation for the day was giving thanks, the best way they know how, to the New Zealanders who supported them to Olympic glory.

"It's a great event, that's the reason why we're here.

"When we finally get the chance to go around the country, it's humbling to get that support."

Karonen likewise thanked the town which has virtually adopted him over the last few days, with no task too big to help the handsome Swede.

Evidently his split rowing pants pre-race produced a flurry of activity from some eager female supporters in the Aeon sponsors tent.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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