Tonks is the rock

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT -

Chris Ine­son, who ran the Sports Foun­da­tion through the 1990s, made one en­dur­ing con­tri­bu­tion to New Zealand sport, and it’s still pay­ing div­i­dends.

When Rob Wad­dell was start­ing to win world sin­gle sculls ti­tles, some of the ma­jor row­ing nations be­gan to cast an eye at New Zealand and won­der who the mas­ter­mind be­hind his suc­cesses was.

They set­tled on coach Dick Tonks and there were some tempt­ing fi­nan­cial of­fers for him from over­seas.

Ine­son worked hard to put an at­trac­tive pack­age in place to re­tain him.

It worked. Tonks stayed with the Kara­piro-based elite New Zealand row­ing squad, coach­ing some crews him­self and over­see­ing the en­tire pro­gramme.

New Zealand has had phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess over the past 12 or 15 years, and it cul­mi­nated last week at the Lon­don Olympics, when the row­ers won five medals, three of them gold.

New Zealand has had plenty of Olympic row­ing suc­cess be­fore, but we’ve never won more than three medals at one games. To win five, and have more crews in fi­nals, was in­cred­i­ble.

The New Zealand row­ing squad was the talk of the row­ing fra­ter­nity at Eton Dor­ney.

The ques­tion that was asked re­peat­edly was: how does such a small coun­try pro­duce a con­veyer belt of cham­pi­ons?

Ob­vi­ously it’s cru­cial to have great ath­letes. But it takes more than that and Tonks is a key fig­ure in the row­ing pro­gramme.

An Olympic row­ing medal­list him­self in 1972, Tonks has guided dozens of cham­pi­ons since the early 1990s, when he be­gan his coach­ing ca­reer in Whanganui.

The most fa­mous mem­bers of the re­cent row­ing squads have been Wad­dell and the Ever­sSwindell twins – now re­tired – and gold medal­lists Mahe Drys­dale, Eric Mur­ray, Hamish Bond, Joseph Sul­li­van and Nathan Co­hen of the cur­rent Olympic team. But there have been many more world cham­pi­ons.

Since sin­gle sculler Darcy Had­field won the first Olympic medal for New Zealand, in 1920, our row­ers have won 21 medals, nine of them gold.

It’s re­veal­ing that the two great eras, in the late 1960s-early 70s, and from about 1997 to now, have been built around cham­pion coaches in Rusty Robert­son and Tonks.

Nei­ther man fits the more re­cent im­age of a pro­fes­sional coach – showy, talk­a­tive and en­joy­ing the spot­light.

Tonks doesn’t say a lot, but his row­ers hang off ev­ery word.

There are sev­eral ‘‘pro­fes­sional’’ sports teams in New Zealand – the All Blacks, the War­riors, the Phoenix, the men’s cricket team.

None are even close to match­ing the row­ers in terms of pro­fes­sion­al­ism, dis­ci­pline, metic­u­lous prepa­ra­tion and achieve­ment.

Com­pet­ing in what is close to a global sport, they have built an as­tound­ingly suc­cess­ful record. The row­ers work closely to­gether, get on well, and en­joy each other’s suc­cesses. They should be the role model for all other New Zealand sports teams.

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