Arise Sir Richard Tonks. A knighthood would be a worthy gesture to honour the rowing coach's efforts in getting New Zealand into the "G" column on Olympic medal tables.

Tonks has personally overseen five Games gold medals and helped pick other medallists as a Rowing New Zealand selector.

The late Arthur Lydiard picked up four gold (Peter Snell 800m 1960, 1964; 1500m 1964; Murray Halberg 5000m 1960) and one bronze (Barry Magee, marathon 1960). Boardsailing coach Grant Beck has three gold (Bruce Kendall 1988, Barbara Kendall 1992, Tom Ashley 2008), one silver (Barbara Kendall 1996) and three bronze (Bruce Kendall 1984, Barbara Kendall, Aaron McIntosh 2000).

Tonks has arguably done more for New Zealand on the global stage than Sir Graham Henry. In contrast to the All Blacks' World Cup-winning coach, he has had athletes pick up a golden gong at the Olympics since being employed by Rowing New Zealand in 1999. He has made household names of Rob Waddell, Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell, Mahe Drysdale, Hamish Bond and Eric Murray. That is phenomenal when you think of the split-second differences in making a podium or not.


A modest individual, Tonks may well decline such a gesture. However if the Prime Minister can offer a knighthood to All Black captain Richie McCaw, he can surely offer it to Tonks.

The 61-year-old's methods are beyond dispute. Perhaps the most telling statistic is the 45 Olympic or world championship medals (23 gold, eight silver, 14 bronze) New Zealand rowers have procured since the 2004 Athens Games.

Soon after his charges disappear into Lake Karapiro's rolling mist on a 20km row, Tonks eases his aluminium dinghy into the water, cranks the 15-hp motor into action and skims after them. Throughout the journey he looks for two things: the completion of miles, because in his mind "miles make champions" and improvements to the rowing stroke. He murmurs constructive observations into his trusty megaphone: "Hooold the catch, niiice and relaxed, eeeasy on the oars," always emphasising the first syllable.

He's proud his rowers now treat their sport as a day job rather than rising at 6.30 in the dark on winter mornings.

He likes the fact that, when rowers come into the squad they immediately assume they are going to be good enough to medal. Two years ago he told the Herald on Sunday: "The culture has built slowly through winning. Anyone who joins this programme has to believe they're good enough. That means they don't sit on the start line, look across at the Germans, the English, the Americans and the Russians and think, 'Aw, hell'. Those other crews have to look at our black singlets and know they're going to be under threat."

The master coach also has an irreverent streak.

Tonks turned up barefoot to the 2012 selection announcement, giving the impression he'd just coupled the boat trailer to his ute, popped his megaphone under the tarp and ducked in for a squiz before shooting home. Yet his fingerprints were all over the selections that earned New Zealand a record number of medals this Olympics.

Such an attitude is reflected in his coaching. He used to tell the Evers-Swindell twins they weren't being judged on how they competed. It was about being quickest between A and B. He would then hold his thumb and forefinger up with about one centimetre between them and say, 'It could be this much'. The 0.01s margin in Beijing vindicated his point.


There is no reason Tonks shouldn't continue to excel and work towards his dream of having a crew in all 14 Olympic classes (New Zealand had a record 11 this Games).

He should just be given the opportunity to do it as Sir Richard. As he has put it: "Ah yes, sitting on the water waiting for the boats to return; it beats pushing paper in an office."