Mahe Drysdale faces arguably the most significant regatta of his career when the rowing world championships begin next weekend in Bled, Slovenia.

The 32-year-old will gauge whether he is still the No 1 contender to take Olympic gold at London.

If Drysdale cannot top the podium next year, he risks following the path sculled by Peter-Michael Kolbe - who won a record five world championships from 1975-86 but took three silver medals at the Olympics; a fine achievement in its own right but he could not beat Finn Pertti Karppinen at the sport's pinnacle event.

When Drysdale was invited to the Golden Blades sprint event in St Petersburg in June, he sought advice from someone who does know how to win Games gold - former Soviet champion Vyacheslav Ivanov.


In a scene conjuring up images of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev's 1986 "fireside chat", Drysdale got hold of a Russian translator to glean gems from the man who won the first of his three consecutive Olympic golds as an 18-year-old in 1956.

"He was an interesting character; confident in his own ability. I'm sure the stories tend to get taller over time but we shared some good banter.

"He was adamant a single sculler should never race out of the start unless you are 'weak in the head', or at least that's what the translator said.

"It was interesting hearing about his races. In the ones I've seen, he was capable of coming from four to five lengths behind to win in the final 500m.

"I remember being left thinking, 'no way!"'

Drysdale was the gold medal favourite a year out from the Beijing Games after conquering the 2007 world championships in Munich. However, because he only qualified the boat and not himself, he was challenged for his Olympic place by Rob Waddell in the most anticipated rowing trial in New Zealand history. Drysdale won but went on to fall ill at the Games, a mishap which saw him vomit from his boat and be rushed to the medical tent after taking bronze.

Drysdale is unlikely to be challenged for his spot next year but is currently not rated the best single sculler in the world.

For now, the man to beat is Czech Ondrej Synek. Drysdale has not beaten Synek in a race since he took his fourth world championship in 2009. The 28-year-old remains unbeaten at elite level since then, even against the likes of Norwegian Olaf Tufte, the incumbent double Olympic champion.


Drysdale acknowledges it: "Synek is the man to beat. I'd be surprised if he's not fighting it out for gold. If I beat him, I'd expect to be in the medals.

"He used to be vulnerable in the middle 1000m of a race but has improved that in the last couple of years.

"The key will be eking out a small lead heading into the last 500m. I've had the speed to match him in the past.

"Other competitors are watching him harder these days which gives me more freedom to do what I want."

Part of that freedom has been adjusting to a single on-water training a day rather than the two he has completed for the majority of his career. Drysdale is on a bike the rest of the time.

He estimates he has done 2000km on the roads around their Mechelen base in Belgium in the past six weeks. He has no injury or illness concerns but uses the programme to cater for the degenerative arthritis in his back.

"This year, I've experimented so my body can avoid injury better. Ideally, I'd be on the water more but the bike will be an integral part of my programme again next year.

"One of the benefits is you get to see other places. In addition to cycling, one day I caught the train to Bruges where [fellow single sculler] Tim Maeyens lives and rowed back down the river.

"I didn't have time for a pint of the famous Bruges beers but sampled a few square Belgian pastries with custard in the middle covered in chocolate."