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Great Wall, Napier Earthquake -- Memories for Mahe

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Great Wall of China & Napier Earthquake -- Memories for Mahe to Recall at Westpac Halberg Celebrity Sporting Dinner next Friday

29 August 2008: What have the Great Wall of China and the 1931 Napier Earthquake got in common? Plenty, if you’re Mahe Drysdale, as he will share with guests at the Westpac Halberg Celebrity Sporting Function in Napier next Friday.

For the record Drysdale, who flew back from the Beijing this week with the rest of the 2008 New Zealand Olympic team, has never set foot on China’s landmark monument. Based on his experiences at the Olympic rowing course earlier this month, that is unlikely to happen any time soon.

As for what happened in Napier on February 3, 1931 - when more than 250 people died as a result of the earthquake - Mahe and his family have lived with that for the last 77 years. “My grandmother (Joy Owens) grew up in Napier and the earthquake happened on the day she started school,” he says. “As you can imagine that was a dramatic occasion for a five-year-old and something we have heard a lot about over the years.”

Mahe himself has happier memories of Hawke’s Bay, enjoying success in regattas on the Clive River in recent summers and spending time in training camps at Clive. But the three-time world single scull rowing champion admits that while Beijing brought him pain and sadness, it also brought him considerable pleasure.

“My best memory was being chosen as the New Zealand team flag bearer in the opening ceremony. That was a special occasion,” he says, and one he would never trade. While there were suggestions the time spent out in the arena that night may have led to the viral attack which struck him down a few days later, Mahe has “absolutely no regrets” with his decision to accept the honour of carrying the flag.

“We don’t how I caught the virus and probably never will.” What he does know is that he lost weight, conditioning, was severely dehydrated and at the business end of the 2000m course, “completely drained of all energy.”

Which is what prompted his “hitting the Great Wall” comments at the rowing. “That’s exactly what it felt like,” he says. “Mentally I was in good shape and on the day before the final I felt good, but in the final I hit the wall again in the last few hundred metres and couldn’t do anything about it.”
He says he was proud “to have held on for bronze” and despite being in a collapsed state immediately after the final was determined to make the medal ceremony. “I really had to work to get there, but I wasn’t going to miss it.”

Now in Karapiro and still recovering from the illness, Mahe concedes a serious campaign in 2009 holds little appeal. However he is determined to make the 2010 World Rowing Championships at Karapiro “a big priority” and then think seriously about “attending to unfinished Olympic business” at London in 2012.

Right now he wants to take a break and spend time with friends in Napier where he will be the keynote speaker at the Westpac Celebrity Sporting Function at the War Memorial Conference Centre in Napier on Friday, September 5.

The Napier dinner is the third of 11 Westpac Celebrity Sporting Functions around the country planned by the Halberg Trust. Other centres hosting Celebrity Sporting Functions include New Plymouth (October 9), Nelson (October 15), Dunedin (October 22), Invercargill (October 23), Queenstown (October 24), Hamilton (November 12), Wellington (November 14), Tauranga (November 28) and Christchurch (December 5).

All funds raised at the dinner will support the work of the Halberg Trust in linking young people with a disability to sport and active leisure in the Hawke’s Bay region.


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