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It is fairly safe to say that no one has been quite so dominant in their sport as New Zealand rowers Hamish Bond and Eric Murray have in the coxless pair in the last seven years. Ever since joining forces in the event in 2009, they have gone unbeaten in every World Rowing Cup, World Championships and Olympic Games race they have contested.
In continuing that run this year and limbering up for their Olympic title defence at Rio 2016, the Kiwi pair won World Rowing Cup events in Lucerne (SUI) at the end of May and Poznan (POL) one month later.
The Dunedin-born Bond and the Hasting-born Murray, who is the senior of the two by nearly four years, first came together in the coxless four crew that won the world title in Munich in 2007. That NZ four, which also featured James Dallinger and Carl Meyer, brought an abrupt end to Great Britain’s domination of the event by winning seven of the eight international races on the programme that year.
The New Zealand quartet went to Beijing 2008 as strong favourites for gold. Surprisingly, however, they missed out on a place in the final and eventually had to settle for first place in the B final, though Bond did have the consolation of becoming New Zealand’s 1,000th Olympian in China.
In response to that major disappointment, Bond and Murray decided to change to a new boat. “It had been in the back of my mind since Beijing,” said the former. “We’d trained in pairs while we were preparing for the four and we had done some fast times. I knew that the combination had potential. Eric was taking time away from the sport and looking at his options and I approached him and he decided it would be worth a crack. Thankfully the selectors, in their infinite wisdom, agreed.”
The rest is history. The duo began their supremacy by winning the coxless pair world title in Poznan (POL) in 2009, a year that also saw them win the New Zealand Team of the Year award. They retained that world title on home water in Karapiro the following year, and again in 2011 in Bled (SLO), and won every World Cup event they contested in the lead-up to London 2012.
Bond and Murray laid down the best possible marker on their first outing at the London Games rowing venue of Eton Dorney, setting a new world record of 6:08.50 in winning the first heat by nearly ten seconds ahead of French pair Germain Chardin and Dorian Mortelette. Two days later the Kiwis cruised to victory in their semi-final, taking the line by a comfortable margin from Italy’s Niccolo Mornati and Lorenzo Carboncini.
Lining up in Lane 6, the NZ duo made a fast start in the final, though they trailed their French rivals by three hundredths of a second at the 500m mark. From that point on, however, Bond and Murray took control, hitting 38 strokes a minute to pull out a 1.5-second lead over Chardin and Mortelette after 1,000m.
Gliding across the water at an average speed of 19.1 km/h, the uncatchable Kiwis passed the 1,500m marker more than five seconds clear of Great Britain’s George Nash and William Satch, who were battling it out with the French for silver, a duel Chardin and Mortelette eventually won by a nose. Ahead of them, Bond and Murray crossed the line in 6:16.65 to seal gold in emphatic fashion.
“It was great when I first got back (to New Zealand) and one of the coolest things I got to do was the All Blacks (national rugby team) hosting all of the Olympic medallists in Dunedin,” said Bond, recalling the days that followed their Olympic triumph. “They introduced us at half-time to a full crowd of 30,000. It was a surreal feeling to have 30,000 people applaud and give a standing ovation. I’d almost put it on a par with the medal ceremony in London.”
Made members of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2013, Bond and Murray continued to sweep all before them in the coxless pair, cruising to a fourth world title in Chungju (KOR) that September, and then a fifth the following August in Amsterdam (NED), where they also won the non-Olympic coxed pair event with Caleb Shepherd. Their sixth and latest world crown came in Aiguebelette (FRA) last September.
“We don’t go out to defend anything,” said Murray, explaining their philosophy. “That’s the way we’ve always worked, which has been successful for us. You’ve got to go out there and win every single race you’re competing in.
“For the other crews, they’ve never beaten us, so they’ve probably got doubt: ‘Are we going to beat them? Probably not, because nobody ever has’. And that’s what’s really been driving us for the last four years: going out to try and win another gold medal at the Olympics.”