Redemption day for Kiwi rowing stars at games
WINDSOR, England (AP) - Mahe Drysdale was so nervous before the single sculls final, he started the day throwing up. He ended it as Olympic champion.
The star oarsman from New Zealand, a five-time world champ, joined his teammates from the men's pair to finally put their Olympic failures behind them and power their country to the top of the rowing medals table at the London Games.
Despite his nerves, Drysdale delivered a composed and gutsy performance Friday at Dorney Lake to win the gold medal, completing the resume of one of rowing's leading names. Earlier in the day, Hamish Bond and Eric Murray won their first Olympic gold.
With one day of finals left, New Zealand is the leading nation in rowing with three golds. But Britain and Germany are close behind.
"It's a moment that will live with me forever,'' Drysdale said after being hoisted onto the shoulders of his beaten opponents - silver-medalist Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic and bronze-medalist Alan Campbell of Britain.
Bond and Murray did what they have done for the past three years, dominating rivals.
"It's one thing saying you're going to be Olympic champion, but to become one is just amazing,'' Murray said.
Also Friday, Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins captured the host nation's second gold with victory in the women's double sculls. With Campbell and the pair of George Nash and William Satch both winning bronze, Britain now has six medals - matching its best haul in more than 100 years.
Germany won the quadruple sculls, upsetting favorites Croatia to claim a second gold of the regatta, following its triumph in the men's eight.
"I cannot express it in words,'' Germany's Karl Schulze said. "My God, there is nothing better than this.''
Drysdale, Murray and Bond were desperate to avenge what happened in the Beijing Games, which they entered as huge favorites but left scarred by failure. Illness struck Drysdale before his single sculls final and he struggled to a bronze medal. London was probably his last shot at Olympic gold, and he was feeling the weight of expectation.
"I never really had nerves like this before,'' he said. "Two hours before the race, I was in the toilet throwing up. It's not a nice feeling. It was probably one of the worst moments of my life.''
He showed no lingering effects in the race, pushing clear of longtime rival Synek in the third 500 meters and holding on as the Czech made a late sprint for the line.
As the early afternoon sun broke out over the course, both Drysdale and Campbell collapsed with exhaustion onto the jetty.
"It was gladiatorial out there,'' Drysdale said.
Murray and Bond haven't lost since coming together after Beijing, where they were part of a quadruple sculls boat that failed to reach the final.
The Kiwis won by two lengths, with the French taking silver and Britain bronze despite veering out of its lane in the final stretch of the race.
"Our biggest fear was not being able to deliver what we were capable of,'' Bond said. "There was a lot of effort and a lot of training gone into this. Somebody did the stats - it was like 17,000 strokes for every one stroke in that final.''
Grainger was given the biggest ovation of the day after finally capturing gold following three straight silvers at the last three Olympics. The win maintained her unbeaten run with Watkins since they joined forces in 2010.
Britain's top female rower punched the air after crossing the line in 6 minutes, 55.82 seconds to beat Australia. Poland took the bronze and the punishing effects of their effort showed: Magdalena Fularczyk, the bow of the crew, needed to be pushed in a wheelchair to the podium to collect her medal.
"The gold medal means so much to me because it was proving so elusive,'' Grainger said. "On the podium, we both knew how special it was. We have had three fantastic years together.''