Once a month over the next year, NZME sports reporter Alex Chapman will profile well known and potential Olympians in the build-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Today the series begins with two-time Olympic champion Mahe Drysdale.

It's a brisk, overcast winter's afternoon. Lake Karapiro is still. The trees reflecting off the glassy water. It's quiet. It's not often it is. Then, all six-foot-six of Mahe Drysdale emerges. He breaks into a hurried walk, and makes his way down.

If you ever needed further proof that Drysdale is the ever-consummate professional, this is it. The two-time Olympic gold medalist has managed to squeeze in half an hour to chat. "Sorry mate, we have another training," he explains as he sits down.

Another training. How many of them have there been? At least one already today, but how many over the last couple of decades. How many times has he sat in a boat or on a rowing machine? The hair is certainly thinner and greyer and there are a few more wrinkles, but the determination seems as prominent as ever.


The 40-year-old is measured. It's almost like every move is part of a precise schedule which has him on the path to Olympic glory. Emotion is carefully conveyed. Even when handed a pair of headphones to listen to Radio Sport's commentary of him narrowly winning gold in Rio, Drysdale hardly hesitates. There's the occasional smile, and the odd chuckle, but not the overwhelming emotion one may expect when listening to the call of them winning gold.

The emotion slightly kicks in when he talks about the race. "I love sport. And I love watching Kiwis do well, and it could be anyone else doing that, but when it's yourself, it's pretty special."

The veteran is clearly driven towards a third Olympic gold, but it hasn't always been the case. Even at 18, an age when others are still daring to dream, Drysdale concedes he gave up the dream. "My first Olympic memory is 1988 and watching Carl Lewis winning in Seoul. That was the defining moment for me because that was when I thought 'I want to go to the Olympics'. I was what, nine years old? And that was what I wanted to do. Throughout school I loved sport. I was good at everything, but not great at anything. So by the time I got to university I thought I'd done my dash and that I wasn't going to make it. And then rowing came along."

Rowing's been with him since.

The now years of experience are evident when Drysdale talks about Tokyo. It's consistently "if we make it". He knows all too well that nothing is a done deal, regardless of the past.

Some of the now more famous pictures of Drysdale are proof of that. Tubes up his nose, leaning over a boat vomiting into the waters of the Shunyi District, almost like he was being rushed to hospital after being found on a desert island screaming "Willlllsonnnnnn!". Drysdale had a bronze medal to his name at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, despite suffering a severe gastrointestinal infection.

Rower Mahe Drysdale suffering from dehydration and exhaustion at Shunyi Olympic Rowing Park at the 2008 Olympic Games. Photosport
Rower Mahe Drysdale suffering from dehydration and exhaustion at Shunyi Olympic Rowing Park at the 2008 Olympic Games. Photosport

That's not quite how he sees it though.

"It's still quite a hard moment for me to think about. It was incredibly disappointing. I went in as the favourite and wanting this Olympic gold medal. And I didn't achieve it," he concedes. "But as an athlete, what it did, was get me two Olympic golds. And if I hadn't had that experience, I don't think I would have overcome things that happened to me in the next eight years."


"As a person, it just strengthened my resolve. It was tough after that, because I kind of looked at everything and looked at myself in the mirror and asked a few people some pretty tough questions. And I got some answers I didn't want to hear. And that was a turning point for me. When I looked back at it, I'd screwed it up," he emphasises "I wasn't good enough to overcome what was thrown at me and still win."

"When I put my hand on my heart, I know there are things I could have done better. But I was the three-time world champion. I had the world best time. And I thought that was good enough. That was a tough lesson to learn on the biggest stage."

Mahe Drysdale with his gold medal after winning the single sculls title at the London Olympics. Photosport
Mahe Drysdale with his gold medal after winning the single sculls title at the London Olympics. Photosport

Drysdale now isn't in the single sculls boat he has the strong association with. After missing out to Robbie Manson for the seat this year, Drysdale joined the men's eight to continue New Zealand's pursuit of a first gold in the blue ribbon event since 1972.

There's certainly a romanticism to Drysdale bowing out in a crew boat. He'll retire after Tokyo. There's a sense of everything going in full circle. Ironic when that's the last thing any rower wants to be doing.

Drysdale debuted at the Olympics as a 26-year-old in a crew boat. A four which consisted of another future Olympic champion, Eric Murray. They, alongside Donald Leach and Carl Meyer finished fourth in Athens. Drysdale switched to the single and by then a bloke called Hamish Bond had arrived on the scene. Murray and Bond then won 69 consecutive races and two Olympic golds after they switched to the men's pair, before they themselves went their separate ways after the Rio Games. It's hard not to think of similarities to Bond or Drysdale when you speak to the other.

Both so calculated. Bond had a reputation for being the sensible one of the "Kiwi Pair". Murray, the larrikin, Bond, the statesman. Now Bond and Drysdale are the senior heads in the eight.

There's also the coincidence that another man Drysdale has a long affiliation with is also now with a crew. His former coach, Dick Tonks, is in charge of the Canadian team. His mentor, is now a rival.

"I've spent the best part of 15 years being coached by him, so there always will be a bond."

He laughs, "It's probably a bit different now though, he won't be as forthcoming because one of their priority boats is the men's eight, so we will be coming up against each other in direct competition. I don't think he will be giving me as many technical points."

In 2006, after winning his first of now five Halberg Sportsman of the Year Awards,

Drysdale made a comment which is such an obvious concept when you think about it.

'Everyone needs an inspiration in life.' "Every Olympics my inspiration changes. But my inspiration now is my family," he reflects. "They're the reason I do what I do. They inspire me every day and it's just fantastic to go home, and no matter how good the row was, you just get that support and love from them."

Mahe Drysdale, second left, in the men's eight boat at the World Rowing Cup. Photosport
Mahe Drysdale, second left, in the men's eight boat at the World Rowing Cup. Photosport

Drysdale's wife Juliette won three world championship golds and an Olympic bronze medal in the women's coxless pair with Rebecca Scown. Now the Drysdale's are needing a boat bigger than just a quad, with a third child on the way.

"Brontë [the Drysdale's oldest child] just thinks it's normal that you have medals, and every dad just brings them back medals. That just puts it all in perspective."

And just like that, Drysdale has to once again go train. Handshakes are quickly exchanged, and he sprints from the dock, back up the hill, and disappears into the high performance centre to hunt for another Olympic gold.