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Craig Stanaway: And the Halberg winner is...


By Craig Stanaway in London

Published: 8:40AM Tuesday August 07, 2012 Source: ONE Sport

I got a phone call at short notice yesterday to talk to my mates Nathan Rarere, Dean Lonergan and Ian Smith on the radio.

I speak to them on Thursdays and have done so every four years and for the first time - ever - they wanted to talk rowing.

No surprise after what we've witnessed over the last week. Smithy then asked me: "If you had to decide, which was the best of the three rowing gold medals?"

It's something the Halberg judges are going to be forced to debate. For me, no question it's Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan's gold in the double. I'll tell you why. It exemplifies everything Kiwis love about sport.

Two comparatively little guys up against a field of really big men.

Two guys who aren't as strong as the rest of the field. But they're obviously two guys who've trained harder than anyone else to overcompensate for their physical limitations.

Watching them go from fifth to first in less than 500 metres was, for me, like watching Kiwi win the Melbourne Cup in 1983 after being last at the turn.

I wasn't the only one watching that last 500 in awe as Nathan and Joseph flipped the nitric oxide switch and exploded the engines into overdrive.

Eric Murray told me the New Zealand rowing team was watching it all unfold on TV at their day house. When they crossed the line, the likes of Murray, Bond and Drysdale sat in disbelieving silence.

They knew Nathan and Joseph had the potential to do it. Seeing them do it made them all the more determined. As senior members of the team, they didn't want to be upstaged by a more junior crew. The double's gold strengthened their resolve to win and be victorious too.

Mahe's gold for me is different. I was lakeside that day in Beijing when he almost killed himself trying to win gold. I remember writing "So what that he failed to become an Olympic Champion. New Zealand gained a national hero".

Over the last four years, he's had to work harder than anyone else to get himself to the start line in London. His back is stuffed, his body is beginning to fail him, which makes his gold all the more remarkable.

Mahe told me two years ago he didn't care if he never won another race, just as long as he won the final in London.

When he was knocked off his bike six weeks ago in Munich I had real doubts. He's since revealed he did too. Throwing up before the final because of nerves surely wasn't a great sign.

That race was as nerve racking as watching the All Blacks in last year's World Cup final. However just like McCaw's men, losing wasn't an option.

Our national hero won the medal he needed to win to compliment his world record equalling five world championship titles. He can retire now knowing he's considered one of the greatest scullers in the history of the sport.

And yet, neither Mahe nor the men's double should win the Halberg Award.

The Men's Pair of Eric Murray and Hamish Bond have that wrapped up. Only a Nick Willis gold in the 1500 metres would better it.

Eric and Hamish broke the world record and claimed gold in the same week. Sir Steven Redgrave (the world's greatest rower) and Sir Matthew Pincent have both said on the BBC that our men's pair is the greatest in rowing history.

Even if Willis wins gold, he hasn't gone undefeated in 2011. Neither has Mahe or the double.

The men's pair are undefeated. They've never been beaten. FISA ranks them the best crew in the world, Redgrave and Pincent, with nine Olympic gold medals between them, rank them the best of all time.

Surely the Halberg judges can't ignore the obvious.