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Mahe Drysdale nearly walked away from rowing

Published: 6:33AM Saturday December 22, 2012 Source: Fairfax

Olympic gold medallist Mahe Drysdale says if he was rushed into making a decision about his rowing future he would have walked away from the sport he loves.

Drysdale ended speculation over his future yesterday by committing through to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

But the 34-year-old, who won gold in the single sculls in London to back up a bronze in Beijing four years earlier, said he came close to ending his career while still on top.

"I guess this was the first time in my life that I seriously, seriously considered it," he said.

"After Beijing there were times where I thought maybe I should just quit, but this time it was, I guess, a little bit more real.

"I did actually look at other opportunities, what the other options were, and really weighed them up."

He said if Rowing New Zealand had forced him to make a decision sooner he would likely have walked away.

"I think if they had have forced my hand I probably would've quit. If I had to go to training tomorrow, back into full-time, I probably wouldn't be here," he said.

Drysdale made the final decision on Wednesday before announcing it publicly yesterday.

He will take a six-month sabbatical from rowing and will be back in the boat at Lake Karapiro for trials in July next year.

He credited Rowing New Zealand for allowing him time to consider his options and for granting him a six-month holiday from the sport, saying it helped to make his decision easier.

"In the end rowing was something that . . . I want to be doing more than anything else I can think about.

"I still love the sport, there's no doubt about it. It's a pretty good life that we have - it's tough, it's hard work but it's also very satisfying.

"Being able to represent your country is pretty special and you only get that for a limited time in your life."

He said after 12 solid years and three consecutive Olympic campaigns he needed some time out to recharge physically and mentally.

Over the past four months he's had doubts about his age and whether his body can withstand another four years of intensive training, but it came down to whether he still had the hunger to compete at the top level.

Rowing New Zealand chief executive Simon Peterson reacted with natural delight at Drysdale's decison to forge on with his illustrious career.

"Mahe is going to take a sabbatical and Rowing NZ fully supports his decision. It is a well deserved break and it will ensure he is fresh and ready for the campaign to Rio," Peterson said.

"We are supportive of Mahe's desire to keep competing at the top level, and this break will give him the best chance to deliver a world class performance in Rio."

Drysdale said announcing his decision to stay in the sport was a weight off his shoulders and he would now be able to relax with family and friends in Tauranga and Auckland over Christmas.

He has also booked a holiday in the United States and Canada, where he plans to get some skiing in.

"I'm really happy with it, feel great and know that I've made the right decision. In going forward, now I know what I'm achieving, I can plan my life and it's a nice place to be, rather than being in limbo where I've been for the last four-and-a-half months."

However, it won't be all fun and leisure, including competing in the Coast to Coast and an Ironman - both things he wants to tick off on his bucket list.

He has also secured a place on the New Zealand PGA Championship in February and March next year.

"There's a bit on, but it's exciting to have those different challenges, things I'm not used to doing that push me out of my comfort zone."

He said it would keep him in "fairly good shape" which is "key to making this sabbatical a success".

"Then it's just a matter of putting the icing on the cake by getting the rowing back together," he said.

Drysdale's partner, Juliette Haigh, retired from rowing after more than 15 years in the sport earlier this month.

His aim will be to gain boat selection for the 2013 Rowing World Championships being held in Chungju, South Korea in August 2013.

The sabbatical means he will miss the World Cup regattas.

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