By Joseph Romanos
Athletics and rowing vie for the honour of being New Zealand’s most successful Olympic sport, with 21 medals each.
Athletics has produced 10 golds, 2 silvers and 9 bronzes. Rowing’s record is 9 golds, 2 silvers, 10 bronzes.
Behind these two are sailing (18 medals), equestrian (10), canoeing (9), swimming (7) and cycling (6).
But if it’s close at the top, there is no argument that rowing has dominated in recent times, with gold medals at every Olympics since 2000 and 10 medals in all in that time.
New Zealand has named a team packed with Olympic and world championship medallists for Rio de Janeiro. It is New Zealand’s biggest Olympic rowing squad and is contesting a record 11 events.
Heading the New Zealand entries are Hamish Bond and Eric Murray in the men’s pair. They are unbeaten since linking after the 2008 Olympics. Other world champions include Mahe Drysdale (single sculls), Emma Twigg (single sculls), Julia Edward and Sophie MacKenzie (women’s lightweight double sculls), and Zoe Stevenson and Eve Macfarlane (women’s double sculls).
New Zealand will have men’s and women’s eights competing in Rio, the first entry by a New Zealand eight since 1984.
It is a formidable array of talent, poised to add to the already rich history of New Zealand’s Olympic rowing feats.
Here’s how our rowers have fared over the years:
1920, Antwerp: Darcy Hadfield was the first rower to represent New Zealand at the Olympics and he picked up the bronze medal in the single sculls, by virtue of being the fastest losing semi-finalist. Hadfield went on to win a world professional single sculls crown.
1932, Los Angeles: Despite suffering a rigging malfunction, Bob Stiles and Rangi Thompson won a silver medal in the pair. The New Zealand coxed four finished fourth in their final and the eight missed out on the final.
1952, Helsinki: The coxed four did not make the final.
1956, Melbourne: New Zealand entered the single sculls, pair and coxed four, but made no final.
1960, Rome: The sole New Zealand rower, single sculler Jim Hill, finished fourth in the final.
1964, Tokyo: Murray Watkinson finished fifth in the single sculls, and the coxed four and eight did not make the final.
1968, Mexico City: Dramatic times for New Zealand. The coxed four, a scratch combination, rowed superbly and won the gold convincingly. But the favoured eight were badly affected by the thin air at Mexico City’s high altitude and faded to finish fourth.
1972, Munich: The eight made no mistake this time, winning the final in grand style. Almost as impressive was the coxless four’s silver medal effort, behind the crack East German team. The coxed four finished sixth in their final and Watkinson bowed out in the single sculls semi-finals.
1976, Montreal: The eight couldn’t make it two in a row, but ended up with the bronze. The coxless four were fourth in their final and the coxed four sixth.
1980, Moscow: New Zealand selected an eight, coxed four and coxless four, but none competed when rowing joined most other New Zealand sports in boycotting the games.
1984, Los Angeles: Another boycotted Olympics, but this time New Zealand competed, and won gold in the coxless four and bronze in the coxed four. The men’s eight had to be satisfied with fourth. Women’s rowing was introduced to the Olympics in 1976 and at Los Angeles single sculler Stephanie Foster became the first New Zealand woman to row at an Olympics, placing seventh.
1988, Seoul: Single sculler Eric Verdonk and the men’s coxed four won bronzes. When Nikki Payne and Lynley Hannen also struck bronze in the women’s coxless pair, they became New Zealand’s first women’s Olympic rowing medallists. New Zealand also entered men’s coxed pairs and coxless fours crews in Seoul.
1992, Barcelona: New Zealand’s four entries, the men’s coxed and coxless fours, Verdonk in the single sculls, and Brenda Lawson and Philippa Baker in the double sculls, did not manage to get among the medals. Lawson and Baker were fourth.
1996, Atlanta: Lawson and Baker finished sixth this time in the double sculls. On the men’s side, the lightweight double sculls, coxless four, coxless pair and single sculler Rob Waddell also finished out of the medals.
2000, Sydney: Rob Waddell broke a 12-year medal drought when he won the men’s single sculls. His wife, Sonia, was sixth in the women’s final. The men’s coxless four also finished sixth.
2004, Athens: Twins Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell won the double sculls gold, but several other New Zealand crews made finals. The men’s pair and the women’s four were fourth, Sonia Waddell was again sixth in the single sculls and the women’s pair also finished sixth.
2008, Beijing: The Evers-Swindells retained their double sculls crown in thrilling fashion and Mahe Drysdale (single sculls) and the men’s pair won bronzes. In addition, the men’s double sculls were fourth, the women’s pair were fifth, the men’s lightweight double sculls and the men’s four were seventh and the emerging Emma Twigg in the single sculls was ninth.
2012, London: This was by far New Zealand’s finest Olympic rowing performance, with five medals. Mahe Drysdale won a popular gold in the single sculls, Hamish Bond and Eric Murray were in a class of their own in the men’s pair and Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan staged a miraculous finish to win gold in the men’s double sculls. Storm Uru and Peter Taylor took bronze in the men’s lightweight double sculls and Juliette Haigh and Rebecca Scown claimed the bronze in the women’s pair. Other New Zealand crews were entered in the men’s quadruple sculls, men’s coxless four, women’s single sculls (Twigg fourth), women’s double sculls, women’s lightweight double sculls and women’s quadruple sculls.
George Bridgewater Eric Murray Mahe Drysdale Emma Twigg Rebecca Scown Hamish Bond Peter Taylor Jade Uru John Storey Kelsey Bevan Julia Edward Kayla Pratt Shaun Kirkham Eve Macfarlane Grace Prendergast Nathan Flannery James Lassche Genevieve Macky Zoe Stevenson Francie Turner Joe Wright Robbie Manson Chris Harris Stephen Jones Sophie MacKenzie Alistair Bond Emma Dyke Michael Brake Kerri Gowler Isaac Grainger James Hunter Alex Kennedy Tom Murray Brook Robertson Caleb Shepherd Ruby Tew Rowing