You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Kiwi’s reputation was built with collapse at the finish line

Toronto Star Toronto Star 6/08/2016 Dave Feschuk - Sports Columnist

Mahe Drysdale © Getty Images Mahe Drysdale

Mahe Drysdale, the New Zealand rowing great, won gold at the London Olympics in 2012. But it was a bronze-medal performance four years earlier that underlined his reputation for never-say-die doggedness.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics Drysdale spent the lead-up to the final of the men’s single scull convalescing. He’d come down with a gastrointestinal ailment and lost about 10 pounds in the week before the big race. By the time he collapsed unconscious at the finish line, he was so dehydrated he would need intravenous fluids to help revive him. And yet he still somehow managed a podium result.

Eight years on, Drysdale, 37, is one of the favourites to win gold at the Rio Olympics, where the rowing competition begins Saturday. A five-time world champion, he still cites his 2008 gut check as a watershed moment in a decorated career.

“I left the Beijing Games a changed athlete,” Drysdale wrote recently in the New Zealand Herald. “I learned the bitter taste of disappointment and missed chances. No matter how you envision a race playing out, sometimes you just can’t avoid that curveball. It’s about how you deal with the curveballs that matters most.”

The curveballs of late have been served up by Ondrej Synek, Dysdale’s 33-year-old Czech rival. Synek was the silver medallist in London, but has since avenged that defeat with world championship victories in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Drysdale won silver in the latter two of those races, but has beaten Synek in a pair of World Cup races this summer. He lost to Belgium’s Hannes Obreno at last month’s Royal Henley regatta in England. But he has spoken of the importance of peaking for the Olympics, where New Zealand, which won five rowing medals at the London Games, second only to Britain’s nine, is expected to be a force. Rowing Canada’s high-performance director, Peter Cookson, has said that if all goes well Canada has the potential to win “three or four” medals here, up from two in London.

“If everything went our way (New Zealand) could get 11 medals, but we’d probably be dreaming,” Drysdale said. “You can never predict the Olympics.”

More From Toronto Star

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon