Waddell began his international rowing career in 1995, competing in the men’s pair and men’s coxed pair at the World Rowing Championships. An issue with his heart saw him switch to single sculling and he started racking up medals in the men’s single. After World Championship wins in 1998 and 1999, Waddell went on to claim Olympic gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

Waddell then retired from rowing only to come back eight years later for a shot at the Beijing Olympic Games. Unable to secure the New Zealand single sculling spot after battling with Mahe Drysdale for the position, Waddell raced in the men’s double sculls. With partner Nathan Cohen, they finished fourth. Waddell also held the fastest 2000m time on the indoor rowing machine. His record stood for 19 years.

World Rowing: What currently occupies your time?
Rob Waddell: I have three young kids and am happily married to Sonia (Olympic rower Sonia Scown). I’m head of the New Zealand Olympic Games team – Chef de Mission. We have a farm we live on just out of Cambridge, Waikato, New Zealand and look after thoroughbred race horses. It’s about 70 acres and another 50 acres we lease down the road. I also head a Sport’s Marketing business which keeps me pretty busy. I’m also involved in a private investment business.

WR: Do you still row?
RW: No. I hop on the rowing machine most days though for exercise. I’d love to still compete competitively but time is a challenge. I am at peace with what I achieved and don’t feel any motivation to compete again.

WR: Are you active in another sport or fitness?
RW: We do a lot of family activities such as biking, tramping, skiing. They are the other sports I like to do outside of rowing.

WR: What is your current connection with rowing?
RW: Very little connection other than as Chef De Mission of the Olympic Games team, so I am involved with rowing when it comes to pinnacle events. None of my children row, but we still follow it from a distance. It’s a sport we spent a lot of time doing, so rowing will always be very dear to our hearts.

Rob Waddell from New Zealand at the start of the heat of the Men's Double Sculls at the 2008 Rowing World Cup in Poznan, Poland.©Peter Spurrier/Intersport Images © FISA


WR: When you think back about your time competing, what comes to mind? 
RW: I think about the enjoyment I had racing and competing and some of the big events that I was privileged to be a part of. The personal challenges that you have to overcome. The friendships that were made. The privilege of attending multiple Olympic Games.

WR: What has changed the most since you were rowing internationally?
RW: I think the subtle gains; the improvements have amounted over time to be quite significant gains. People I thought who were very fast ten years ago, their times are ten seconds slower than what people are doing now. Those little incremental gains around training and technique and technology have all made those gains happen.

WR: What about your family?  What do they know about your rowing career?
RW: I have three children, ages, 11, 13 and 16. They are busy little kids. As far as sports go, they do a lot of football, netball, touch rugby, skiing, biking. That’s their main sports. I think they are quietly proud of what happened, with what Sonia and I achieved, but we don’t talk about it much.

WR: Can you tell us about your work to clean up the Waikato River bank?
RW: It’s a personal hobby. It’s like a garden, only a whole lot bigger. Waikato River is the largest river in New Zealand. Our farm is on the banks of the river. The site has had a lot of damage over the years, so we’ve gone about ridding it of pests and doing a lot of planting.

WR: What are your plans for the next five to ten years?
RW: To remain healthy and well. To enjoy life and to enjoy my kids and wife – my family. I’d like to close out some of the work I’m doing at the moment and work more on my business rather than in it. It’s been a personal goal of mine to have had some success outside of rowing.

WR:  What is your advice for the next generation of rowers? 
RW: Enjoy it, follow what you’re passionate about. Find ways of enjoying the sport. Put yourself in a training environment where you don’t have to motivate yourself every day. Be part of a system that forces you to produce quality.