The year that was … men’s pair
Hamish Bond and Eric Murray of New Zealand showed why many think they are the best men’s pair – perhaps even the best sweep rowers – ever, by winning gold at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and remain unbeaten since 2009. But the duo had a few battles on their hands as their competition tried to topple them.
Race of the season: The World Rowing Cup final, Lucerne. The New Zealand juggernauts, Bond and Murray kept their six-and-a-half-year unbeaten streak by the narrowest of margins in a photo finish. They had looked comfortably in front at 1500 metres but there was a sudden charge as three crews raced for second. Murray and Bond were forced to up their rating to 40 to win. Behind them the Netherlands (Roel Braas and Mitchel Steenman) and Great Britain (Nathaniel Reilly-O’Donnell and Matthew Tarrant) recorded the same time with South Africa (Lawrence Brittain and Shaun Keeling) just 0.18 of a second back.
Inspirational performance: South Africa’s Brittain achieved his goal of making the Rio Olympic Games less than two years after being diagnosed with cancer. The 26-year-old had undergone chemotherapy for Hodgkins lymphoma at the end of 2014 before cautiously beginning his training again in February 2015. Reaching Rio was made all the sweeter when he and Keeling took silver.
“We like to race from the front, but we don’t have a huge amount of power, so we just trust our endurance in the middle thousand. I think everyone else is already a bit more race fit. We only arrived in Europe five days ago.” - Eric Murray, after Lucerne gold
"It's just about going out and winning every race. We're proud in our performance and we don't want to let anyone down. To be honest the results are decided in the work we do before we even get here." - Hamish Bond, after Rio gold
The year in review: Murray and Bond maintained their dominance, with the Olympic final their 71st unbeaten race in a row. They faced huge pressure from their homeland which saw them as a sure-fire gold medal and both rowers expressed relief when they made it. The Netherlands pairing of Braas and Mitchel Steenman had a strong season - until Rio. They won medals at the World Rowing Cup regattas in Lucerne and Varese but failed to make the Olympic final.
South Africa performed strongly all season but surpassed all their other achievements to take silver at Rio. Italy’s Giovanni Abagnale and Marco Di Costanzo felt the weight of history when they took Olympic bronze. Abagnale said after the race he was unbelievably proud to win Italy’s first Olympic medal in the class since 1948.
Great Britain, a country with a strong tradition in the pair, had a successful season, medalling at the European Championships and every World Rowing Cup regatta. But they were not able to convert that to the Olympic podium and finished fourth.
Next year’s pairs field may look very different. At the end of the season both Bond and Murray said they were having at least a year off rowing, with Bond successfully taking up elite cycling. But, Croatia’s Sinkovic brother’s will be a crew to watch as they make the switch to the pair from the men’s double sculls.