May 7, 2008 / 12:09 AM / 10 years ago

History looks down on New Zealand rowers

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - History casts an imposing backdrop over Hamish Bond’s disfigured right shoulder as he sits and chats at Rowing New Zealand’s Lake Karapiro headquarters.

<p>New Zealand's Carl Meyer, James Dallinger, Eric Murray and Hamish Bond (L-R) react after winning the men's four final race at the Rowing World Championships in Munich, September 1, 2007. New Zealand won the race ahead of second placed Italy and the Netherlands who finished in third place. REUTERS/Alexandra Beier</p>

A large framed photograph of New Zealand’s Olympic silver medal-winning coxless four from the 1972 Munich Games hangs behind him.

Bond, who sits in the stern of the boat in the current line-up, is prompted by fellow crew members Carl Meyer and James Dallinger to demonstrate the damage caused by a collision with a truck late last year.

Eagerly, the university student asks: “Want to see it?”

Without waiting for an answer, Bond rotates his shoulder forward to reveal the collarbone protruding well away from his shoulder.

“I separated my shoulder (when he was hit while out cycling). Basically my collarbone isn’t attached to the shoulder blade but it doesn’t really bother me.”

The collision cost the three men and team mate Eric Murray valuable training time on the water towards the end of last year, after they had won the world title in Munich.

“Yeah, we had a bit of time out from training together while he recovered,” interjects Meyer, who sits in the bow and paces the boat.

“Then Dally (Dallinger) had an operation and we had little pieces of this and that but we got back into the boat and had a pretty good summer considering.”

A “pretty good” summer, ended with the four being confirmed as New Zealand’s entrants in the coxless four for the Beijing Olympics after a succession of national trials in March.

TEAM WORK

The selection capped a remarkable 12 months.

Assembled less than six months before last September’s world championships when Dallinger was brought into the boat after trials in March, they spent the first month getting to know each other and adopting a unified style.

The speed was there but not the team work, though now they finish each others’ sentences as they sit around a cluttered table piled high with documents.

”There was speed there straight away,“ said Murray. ”There was a good dynamic but it was all a matter of our techniques coming together.

“I think that was the key to our success, making it a lot easier than we had before.”

That team work finally clicked after a month together under coach Chris Nilsson and they won eight of nine races in Europe.

They never expected to win in Munich, with the main goal qualifying for the Beijing Games, after they “stuffed up” according to Murray and finished ninth in the world championships in England in 2006 when Selwyn Cleland was the fourth member of the team.

“Last year if you made the final you automatically qualified for the Olympics,” said the gregarious Murray, who attracted the most media attention on their return to New Zealand for wearing a pair of lederhosen.

NO ILLUSIONS

”So our main focus was qualifying for the Olympics and once we did that we changed our focus around and said: ‘Hey, why don’t we try and get a medal here?’ because we had been going well all the way through.

“But...we did not think: ‘I‘m going to win this today’. We just said: ‘Let’s do what we can and see what comes out of that’.”

Despite the world title, the four are under no illusions that they can easily copy New Zealand’s 1984 Olympic triumph, or the 1972 silver medal, as they began their final preparations for Beijing in August. A year, it seems, is a long time in rowing.

”Every year when you go overseas, it’s a totally new year,“ said Murray. ”It’s not as if you can go and say: ‘Everyone catch us’, because you’re back to square one again.

”You don’t know what anyone else has been doing.

“Other crews might have done something different in their training. They could be faster, they could be slower. So we go there on scratch and see how it goes.”

After 10 weeks of training in New Zealand, where they race against other crews under a handicap system based on world-record times, the four will again head to Europe for regattas against other countries fine-tuning their Beijing preparations.

They will then spend the last six weeks either training on the Sydney Olympic course in Penrith or return to Lake Karapiro, where, after August, Rowing New Zealand hope to add a new print of Olympic medallists to their wall.

Editing by Clare Fallon

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