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IOC / Dominik Keller

Bingo-playing Kiwi rowers see their numbers come up

Four years before, New Zealand's rowers had taken a fine gold in the coxed fours race in Mexico City, but now there was a focus on producing a similar result in the biggest boat of the lot. Pitched against the might of the world's best rowing nations, New Zealand put its focus squarely on winning the coxed eight.

It was not a straightforward task. For one thing, the New Zealand crew were all proud amateurs, and raising the money that they needed was not easy. They responded by holding a series of bingo games and selling book after book of raffle tickets with a “dream kitchen” up for grabs.

But next came an even greater challenge – beating the rest of the world. Ranged against them on the lake were the United States, East Germany, the Soviet Union and West Germany, all of them determined to return home with Gold.

For the Americans, it was an opportunity to reclaim what they saw as “their” race. American crews had won the eights race 11 times in 15 regattas and they placed great value on retaining the title. The East Germans, meanwhile, had already won five gold medals on the rowing lake that day, and were full of confidence. West Germany had beaten New Zealand in the semi-final and thought they could repeat the trick. Yet the Kiwis were confident.

Within their number were two survivors of the four that had won gold in Mexico – Dicky Joyce and cox Simon Dickie, while all had watched as New Zealand took an impressive silver in the coxless four earlier in the day. They knew what they had to do.

From the start, New Zealand made the most of their power.  After just a third of a kilometre, they were a boat length ahead; after a kilometre, which is the halfway point in the race, that advantage had spread to two lengths.

Slowly it began to tighten again. Another 500m down the course, and it was back to a single-length advantage, but the New Zealand crew had kept enough in reserve to hold on. They crossed the line some three seconds in the lead, and slumped in exhaustion. Their victory is still considered one of the greatest achievements in the history of New Zealand sport.

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