The Tonks Small Boat Race, a stand-alone event at the end of the Blinkhorne and Carroll Winter Series, is on this Sunday starting about 9am adjacent to the Aramoho Rowing Club Pontoon.

It heads down river, turning at the National Library Building, before going upstream and finishing at the finish line by the railway bridge.

This race distance is 6km, which while less than the longest most recent race of 9km, is a brutal distance with less time to settle into a slower rating.

The more competitive rowers (and kayakers and Waka Ama athletes) will often spend a lot of the 25- to 35-minute race duration (depending on boat type) close to maximum heart rate with high levels of lactic acid being accumulated.


Boats will start about 20 seconds apart with the winner being decided on prognostic time.

While not strictly part of the Blinkhorne and Carroll Winter Series, Pat Carroll has kindly put up prizemoney for the Tonks event - $100 for first, $50 second, $25 third and $25 spot prize.

This particular race is also special, in that is called the "Tonks Small Boat Race" and of course named after the legendary Dick (Richard) Tonks, although his father, Alan Tonks was also an accomplished rower and coach and presumably Richard's love of the sport grew from that.

Of course, Dick departed NZ Rowing following the Rio Olympics in 2016, bowing out after helping Mahe Drysdale win his second Olympic gold medal in the prestigious men's single scull and earning Dick his sixth Olympic gold coaching performance, an amazing and unmatched feat by any New Zealand coach in any Olympic sport.

Dick's Olympic gold's started the latest golden era of NZ Rowing with Rob Waddell's solo 2000 Olympic gold at the Sydney Olympics in the men's single scull. Next in line were the incredible Evers-Swindell twins, Caroline and Georgina, winning back-to-back Olympic gold in another favourite NZ boat, the women's double scull in 2004 and 2008.

Following a bravely fought bronze medal while sick by Drysdale in the men's single scull at the 2008 Olympics, Mahe then conquered his demons in 2012 and in 2016 in one of the closest finishes of all time when beating Damir Martin of Croatia and recording the exact same time of 6.41.340.

Tonks also coached the most successful crew in world rowing history, Hamish Bond and Eric Murray to multiple world titles, including their first Olympic gold medal in the men's pair in 2012.

New Zealand Rowing doesn't appear to hold exact details on their coaches' achievements and I haven't had the time to go back through every year that Tonks was NZ Rowing's head coach and individual coach of many crews, but I believe Tonks may have won more than half of NZ Rowing's total world and Olympic medals, an incredible feat.

His reign started with Brenda Lawson and my second World Champ gold in the women's double in 1994, although he coached us in New Zealand leading up to our 1993 win.

As an athlete, although Tonks failed to win a NZ premier title (Red Coat), largely due to his loyalty to Union Boat Club, Whanganui, at the age of 21 in 1972 he stroked the NZ coxless four with tough characters Dudley Storey, Ross Collinge and Noel Mills at the Munich Olympics to a wonderful silver medal, less then half a boat behind a legendary East German crew.

Tonks rowed internationally for a few more years but that Olympic silver was his finest achievement as a rower and his only medal. He continued to row and coach for many years and was often part of Union senior eights on our river and would jump in a single every month or so while coaching Brenda and myself on the river to keep us honest.

Tonks is currently head coach of the Canadian men's rowing team, although his young family still reside in New Zealand. At his first World Championships with Canadian Rowing his developing men's programme picked up three top-10 placings with his coxless pair just pipping NZ for fourth and his men's eight beating NZ home in eighth place.

Tonks was named Halberg Coach of the Year a record five times — 1999, 2004, 2005, 2009 and 2012 and World Coach of the Year in 2005, 2010 and 2012, again a record.

He is truly a legend and at 67 should have many more years to impress his coaching skills on rowers worldwide.