Published Saturday 04 August 2012

God Defend New Zealand rang out twice within 40 minutes at Eton Dorney today in perhaps the greatest moment in New Zealand’s Olympic history.
Sports historians talk about the golden hour in Rome in 1960, when Peter Snell and Murray Halberg won athletics gold medals within 60 minutes.
But today Hamish Bond and Eric Murray in the men’s pair and Mahe Drysdale in the single sculls won gold 39 minutes apart.
There were joyous scenes for the hundreds of New Zealand spectators at the rowing. Cheering, the odd haka, laughter, tears, more cheering…it was an occasion never to be forgotten.
Bond and Murray were unbackable favourites. Since they joined forces in the pair nearly four years ago, they have never been beaten. They have won three world titles, but the Olympic gold was the one they were after.
After settling down over the first 500 metres, their victory was never in doubt. By the halfway point they had a lead of 1½ seconds and when they applied the pressure over the third quarter, they stretched that margin to nearly six seconds.
In the end they were timed at 6min 16.65s. Frenchmen Germain Chardin and Dorian Mortelette were second in 6min 21.11s and the British pair of George Nash and William Satch were third.
It was a comprehensive performance by the New Zealanders, who shrugged off the pressure of favouritism, but their feelings were obvious on the victory dais when Murray shed tears through the national anthem and then put his arm around Bond. Immediately the anthem finished, Murray raised his fists in triumph.
The gold medal was presented by New Zealand’s IOC member Barry Maister, himself a former Olympic gold medallist – in hockey.
“We had the speed. No-one else sustained it,” Murray said immediately after the race. “I feel so relieved. It’s an overwhelming sense of achievement, more than we had hoped for.”
Bond said the gold medal was the result of four years’ work. “I’m so glad we pulled it off,” he said. “We’ve been on tenterhooks all week, and I’m so pleased we came through.”
Drysdale has won five world titles, but for him there was unfinished business in his brilliant career.
He could well have won the gold medal in Beijing four years ago, but fell ill during the critical week and in the end rowed valiantly to scramble away with a bronze.
This time the big fellow made no mistake.
He faced a stern test from long-time rival Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic, but by halfway the New Zealander was ahead by 0.19s.
Drysdale really put the hammer down in the third quarter and stretched his lead to 1.40s. It seemed the gold was his if he could maintain his rhythm.
Like the champion he is, Drysdale never faltered. He finished in 6min 57.82s, with Synek back in 6min 59.37s and Briton Alan Campbell third in 7min 03.28s.
The effort Drysdale had expended was obvious immediately afterwards. He made his way to the pontoon and while he didn’t collapse, he lay down and was tended to for a few minutes.
Drysdale said he felt amazed and relieved. "My career was incomplete without this, and I couldn't quite believe it," he said.
"It was one of the toughest races of my life. I had absolutely nothing in that last bit. I knew I had the medal, but I just had to hold on.: Drysdale said Synek was chasing him down near the end.
"I've been waiting for this for 12 years.
"I had all my family and friends here, and the crowd was amazing - this is an experience I'll remember for the rest of my life. This is really what I needed to achieve for my career."
He said he drew encouragement from the gold medal performance yesterday by Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan in the double sculls.
"We have a really strong programme, and seeing the doubles win yesterday - you train with these athletes, so you know you're doing something right."
The third New Zealanders in the finals today were not too far from a medal, either.
Fi Paterson and Anna Reymer, competing in the women’s double sculls – the event the Evers-Swindells won twice – eventually finished fifth, but were gaining fast at the end.
They had a bad patch in midrace, and otherwise might have pushed the medallists closer.
The race was won by Britons Anna Watkins and Katherine Grainger in 6min 55.82s, and the New Zealanders were timed at 7min 09.82s. However, they were less than two seconds away from bronze medallists Poland.
And In the men’s B final of the quadruple sculls, John Storey, Michael Arms, Matthew Trott and Robert Manson won impressively from Russia and the Ukraine.
The New Zealanders dug in over the final 500m to lift themselves from second and won clearly in 1min 29.37s, nearly two seconds clear of the Russians.