Eric Murray, known best as being one half of the ‘Kiwi Pair’ with Hamish Bond, has been called the greatest combination in rowing history.
The London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic gold medallist simply stated that he could not motivate himself to undergo another four-year Olympic campaign. “I always said as long as my mind, my body and my heart were in it, then I could do this for as long as I like. My mind’s been pretty good, my body’s been pretty good, but it was my heart that was on the fence.” The decision will allow Murray to focus on his family, wife Jackie and five-year-old son Zac.
The announcement not only made rowing headlines, but international sporting news all around the world, with global sports media talking about the end of ‘one of the most successful duos in sporting-history’. Social media has been flooded with posts and comments coming from far and wide thanking Murray and paying tribute to his unprecedented career.
‘Legend’, ‘champion’, ‘inspiration’, ‘true gem’, ‘one-off’, ‘incredible’, ‘invincible’, ‘inspiring a generation’ are only a selection of the words used to describe the impact Murray has had on the last decade in rowing and world sport.
From 2009 to 2016 the duo had and unrivalled eight-year run of dominance. This is one of the longest winning streaks in sport history and included 69 consecutive wins in the men’s pair and two in the coxed-pair (2014). This unbeaten, history-making run resulted in two Olympic gold medals, six straight World Rowing Championship titles in the men’s pair and one in the coxed-pair as well as 16 World Rowing Cup gold medals.
Dubbed ‘heroes of All Black-like status’, one of the biggest compliments that can be made in the New Zealand sporting world, Murray (with Bond) also recorded 11 wins at the Henley Royal Regatta, two wins at the Holland Beker and 14 domestic wins in New Zealand.
Throughout their time racing together Murray and Bond beat 32 countries and hold both the Olympic and World Best Time (6:08:5) in the pair. They are the only rowers to hold the World Best Time in two boat classes, owning as well the coxed pair (6:33.3).
Murray and Bond had an average winning margin of 6.45 seconds. Their narrowest win was 0.32 against Great Britain’s Pete Reed and Andrew T Hodge (2010 World Rowing Championships). Recently triple Olympic gold medallist Hodge acknowledged Murray and Bond in his own retirement announcement as “the greatest opponents and best of World Rowing, an incredible unit” and congratulated them on their achievements, adding “it’s been an honour to push you (Murray and Bond) from time to time.”
Murray and Bond dominated the men’s pair to such an extent that the talk was mostly about who would come second and how close they would be able to get to the Kiwis. This even led to some countries deprioritising the pair as it was regarded a sure gold medal event for New Zealand.
Murray started his international rowing career at the World Rowing Junior Championships in 2000 and as a 22-year-old he raced at the Athens Olympics. He won his first World Championship title in 2007 (men’s four) and a seventh-place finish at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in the four helped spur Murray on to come back stronger.
“Eric’s retirement from rowing signals the end of an era. I am very proud of all that we have achieved as a combination over the last eight years, far exceeding my wildest dreams,” Hamish Bond said following his partner’s decision. “I have always respected Eric’s ability as a rower and will forever be in awe of some performances that seemed beyond human. Never having to doubt if your crewmate would dig in and back you no matter what, is invaluable.”
Like many New Zealanders Murray first got into rowing to keep fit for rugby in the winter and it soon became clear what an exceptional athlete he was. At 100kg he is one of the strongest people in world rowing. This made for standout performances not only on the water but also on the indoor rowing machine with Murray holding the 10000m World Record (31:05.2) for 30-39 age group, set in 2015. In the same year he also recorded 14:56.4 for 5000 metres, which would have been a new World Record but was done on sliders.
Murray also had the attitude. “You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have an attitude to ‘do what it takes,’ then you’re not worth rowing with. People with the attitude to push their limits and see how good they can be are the people that you know will row themselves into the ground when you’re training/racing with them.”
This was echoed by Noel Donaldson, coach of the men’s pair since 2013. “Eric has been described as a larrikin and a man with great physical abilities, both of these are true in my eye. He has many values akin to me, a man’s man, never afraid of a challenge and a person who has been self taught in most things he has done in life. He is astute with what works and what doesn’t in rowing and puts it into very practical terms. He is an optimist of the highest proportions, self-believing in his abilities as a competitor. He has true rowing blood, loves stats and knows the world rowing scene as well as any athlete. He is also a fun guy to have a beer with and although there were many challenges, it was great to coach him, an opportunity in life I’ll never forget.”
Sadly for rowing fans, a potential head-to-head in Tokyo in 2020 against Croatia’s Sinkovic brothers will no longer happen. “We do feel slightly sad because we didn’t get to race, but maybe one day we will,” the Sinkovic brothers posted on social media. “It was a privilege to watch you (Murray) row.”
Rowing New Zealand confirmed that Murray has asked to stay part of the programme, possibly in mentoring younger athletes and promoting the sport of rowing. He leaves an exceptional legacy behind and has and will continue to inspire rowers in his home country and around the world with his extraordinary rowing career.
New Zealand University rower Josh Williams fittingly wrote in a social media message to Murray, “I wouldn’t be where, what, or who I am without you or what you and Hamish Bond have achieved. The legacy you have created has inspired me and many others to strive to be the best we can be. So on behalf of all those, who you have inspired over the years, for everything you have done for the sport you leave behind, thank you.”