SOARING to the giddy heights of Olympic stardom is a special occasion for those fortunate enough to savour it but it isn't always about the bling on the podium.

"People always talk about getting the medal around your neck," says Keith Trask, who won a gold medal for New Zealand as part of rowing four crew with Leslie O'Connell, Shane O'Brien and Conrad Robertson at the Los Angeles Summer Olympics in 1984.

"For me rowing is the best. You know, the feeling in the body, which is something special you have with the crew so you can't really describe it in words," says the 55-year-old building contractor who now lives in Auckland with wife Serena.

A promising first XV rugby captain at Karamu High School, Trask gravitated to rowing to hang out with some of his mates.


School coach Tony Bone, of Hastings, who he keeps in touch with regularly, provided the template for his prowess in rowing the boat so well.

Trask's selection in the New Zealand Colts team in 1979 made it easy to go fulltime with the summer sport but his rowing twin brother, Paul, living in Nelson now, about 50 minutes older than him, eventually stayed with rugby through his formative years while pursuing a career in aircraft engineering in Christchurch.

In 1983, Trask moved to the North Shore Rowing Club after missing out on national teams in the previous two years.

"Hawke's Bay was a strong club but I needed to row with the best people at North Shore," he says, reflecting on how he didn't win any red coats (NZ premier title) but certainly caught the eye of the national selectors.

The former Mayfair School and Hastings Intermediate pupil did slip on a red coat with Eric Verdonk, of Taihape, in 1986 in the pairs.

The latter went on to claim bronze as a single sculler at the Seoul Olympics in 1988.
In fact, Trask was selected to go to the 1980 Moscow Olympics as a member of the coxed four team but that didn't eventuate because of a US-led boycott.

"It was disappointing but I was pretty young, 19 at the time, so it was more like missing a trip for me at the time," he says with a chuckle. In 1982 the Kiwi eight team had won gold at the Lucerne World Championship in Switzerland and that rankled with him.

"I thought I was good enough to be there," he says, believing he was neither rowing in the right boats nor with the right people.

A gold world championship medal with the coxed four crew of Robertson, Gregory Johnston, O'Connell and Brett Hollister in Duisburg, Germany, in 1983 was further endorsement of his move to North Shore club.

But switching play from coxed to coxless four crews were turbulent, to say the least, before the LA Olympics.

The 23-year-old found it mentally and physically challenging but, like the rest, showed fortitude in adapting.

"The boat was okay but it didn't race that well in training trials four weeks out of leaving New Zealand."

With coach Brian Hawthorne, of North Shore, they had a rethink to entertain two oars together on the same side of the boat to go faster. Russians, Germans and the Swiss were among the frontrunners but the Americans claimed silver.

"We cleared water on them [Americans] so they had no overlap on us," he says.

It was a proud moment for Trask's parents, Charles and Maureen Trask, who were in LA with relatives and friends of other Kiwi competitors. His father died last year but mother still lives in Hastings.

"It's a very special moment of your life," he says, revealing the race was all over by 10am so the crew went back to their motel and simply enjoyed the company of the Kiwi coxed four, who had won bronze, for the next three hours.

The crew joined a party later that day at the Santa Barbara University, where the regatta was based.

"It's a lot of hard work and you get a sense of achievement out there. The harder you worked the more reward you got."

For Trask it was a lifestyle choice but the harsh reality was one had to earn a living so that kept him grounded.

With son Josh born in 1984, daughters Kezia (1985) and Saskia (1987) followed for a bloke who worked as a carpenter and went on to coach his son in rowing as well his daughters in water polo.

"It's fabulous that they [rowers] get money to stay in the sport longer to apply themselves to the right level more often than not."

For the record, Trask and co had suspicions Eastern Bloc competitors were using drugs at the 1983 world champs but no one dared say a word publicly for the want of proof.

"We just went out there and were able to beat them all so what more could we do so that was a nice feeling," he says after East Germany were second and the then Soviet Union were third but boycotted the LA Games as "copycats".