Nathan Cohen’s first foray into Olympic competition ended disappointingly when he and Rob Waddell were edged out of the medals in Beijing in 2008. Before he was done, however, Cohen had won two world titles and an Olympic gold medal and was regarded as one of the greats of New Zealand rowing. Cohen was born in Christchurch in 1986 and raised in Invercargill. He started rowing in 2000. He won the boys under-18 single sculls event at the New Zealand secondary school championships in 2003, while attending James Hargest High School. In 2003 and 2004, Cohen was second in the junior world championships single sculls final and in 2005, he took the silver medal in the world under-23 championships. Cohen really broke through in 2006. He won the single sculls gold medal at the World University Games in Lithuania, the first New Zealander to win a gold medal at a World University Games in any sport. In addition, he was a silver medallist at the world under-23 championships in Belgium, and a gold medal in the Commonwealth regatta in Scotland. In 2007, he teamed with Matthew Trott and their sixth placing in the world championships in Munich secured New Zealand a berth in the double sculls for the Beijing Olympics the following year. Things got complicated, however, when Rob Waddell embarked on an ambitious comeback. Waddell, the Olympic single sculls gold medallist in 2000, was unable to unseat Mahe Drysdale from the New Zealand singles sculls berth for the 2008 Olympics. It was instead decided that Waddell and Cohen would combine in the double sculls in Beijing. They were an unlikely combination, given the disparity in their ages (Waddell was 33, Cohen 22) and physiques (Waddell was 2.01m and Cohen just 1.84m). The New Zealanders won their heat impressively but in the semi-final, with three to qualify, they had to struggle to grab third spot. In the final, their time of 6min 30.79s was good enough only for fourth behind Australia, Estonia and Britain. That was the end of Waddell’s career in international rowing, but Cohen was just getting started. He was paired with Joseph Sullivan in the double sculls and they clicked immediately. They won back-to-back world championships at Lake Karapiro in 2010 (by six hundredths of a second over Germans Hans Gruhne and Stephan Kruger) and in Bled, Slovenia, in 2011. The New Zealanders were naturally favourites for gold at the 2012 London Olympics. They won their heat in Olympic record time, but suffered a slight reverse in their semi-final when they were second to Argentinians Ariel Suarez and Cristian Rosso. In the final, they had their supporters concerned when they were last at the 500m mark, fifth at the 1000m mark, and only fourth at 1500m. But they had paced their race magnificently and wound up their speed as other crews faltered. They won in 6min 31.67s, beating Italy's Alessio Sartori and Romano Battisti by 1.13s and Slovenians Luka Spik and Iztok Cop by nearly three seconds. The Kiwis’ breathtaking comeback over the final stages remained one of the highpoint of the Olympics for New Zealand fans. Cohen became the first person from Southland to win an Olympic medal. Domestically, Cohen always rowed well. In 2011, he won the national single sculls title, beating the great Drysdale by 7.4s. He also won the double sculls with former partner Trott. In 2013, Cohen again won the national singles sculls crown and was named New Zealand Male Rower of the Year. In April 2013, Cohen suffered an irregular heartbeat during a series of training races. He subsequently withdrew during the world championships in Chungju, Korea, due to a recurrence of the problem during the men's quad scull heats. In December 2013, he announced his retirement owing to his medical condition. Cohen’s younger brother Hayden, six years his junior, is also a leading rower. Cohen was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2013 New Year honours.

News and Blogs

Joseph Romanos writes: Why the Olympics are unique

07 August 2012

Aren’t the Olympics magic! For proof of that, just think about Valerie Adams and the shot put.