Known to all as “Joe”, Athol Earl was the
youngest of the champion eight of the early 1970s.
He won the Olympic gold with the eight at Munich in 1972, when he filled the No 3 berth, and a bronze with the eight in Montreal in 1976.
He was also in eights that claimed the European title in Copenhagen in 1971 and took world championship bronze medals at Lucerne in 1974 and Nottingham in 1975.
The big one, of course, was the Olympic gold medal. The New Zealanders were among the favourites at Munich and duly delivered. Coach Rusty Robertson prepared them well, and they responded by outclassing a quality field to win by nearly three seconds, from the Americans and East Germans.
This was an important victory for the “amateur” New Zealanders over the “professional” northern hemisphere crews, and, significantly, the medals were presented by IOC chief Avery Brundage.
New Zealand's rowing stocks were never higher than that emotional day at Feldmoching when the eight – Tony Hurt, Wybo Weldman, Dick Joyce, John Hunter, Lindsay Wilson, Earl, Trevor Coker, Gary Robertson and cox Simon Dickie – stood on the dais, gold medals around their necks, listening to God Defend New Zealand while they shed tears of joy.
A particularly strong oarsman, Earl won national titles for Avon in the eight (1976) and the coxed four (1974, 75, 76).
Earl's father died young and Athol looked after the family farm for several years. He then moved to Blackball, on the West Coast and farmed there. Later he had a real estate franchise in Rangiora.
He is married to Lynley. One of their children, Sam, has represented New Zealand at rowing. Their daughter Belinda became a policewoman.
The 1972 Olympic rowing eight was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1990, and the eight won the New Zealand Sportsman of the Year crown in 1971 and 1972.