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Waddell Looking Forward to a Change of Fortune

Media Release

Rob Waddell Looking Forward to a Change of Fortune with his Next Wellington Experience


Rob Waddell pictured with Halberg Trust founder Sir Murray Halberg, winning his third Halberg Award in Christchurch back in 2001

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Auckland, 23 October 2007: Former World and Olympic rowing champion Rob Waddell is confident his visit to the Capital City next month will provide a better outcome than two earlier experiences.

Waddell, guest speaker at the Westpac Halberg Celebrity Sporting Function on November 2, recalls how eight years ago he couldn’t even get to Wellington on the night he won the first of his three Halberg Awards. That was back in March 1999, during the NZ Rowing Championships at Lake Ruataniwha.

The best laid plans to fly him up to Wellington after a day of rowing were ruined when strong winds disrupted the regatta schedule. Later that night at the 1998 Awards Dinner Waddell headed off three other reigning World Champions, Blyth Tait (Equestrian), Aaron McIntosh (boardsailing) and Hamish Carter (triathlon) to win both the ‘Sportsman of the Year’ category and the supreme Halberg Award. In his absence his mother accepted the trophy.

“That was very disappointing, but there was little anyone could do about it after the weather closed in,” he says. Then in his build-up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Waddell did some cross training with the Whangamata Surf Club and agreed to join them for the Cook Strait Surf Boat Race at the end of 1999. It was another fruitless experience.

“I remember we were towed across in the morning to the South Island for the start only to spend six hours stuck in three metre swells as we struggled across Cook Strait. It was an absolute nightmare and we were all very sick boys before we finally reached the finish at Titahi Bay. To make matters worse I strained my wrist during the crossing which kept me away from rowing for almost a month.”

Then in February 2001, just months after winning gold in the men’s single scull at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Waddell claimed New Zealand’s ultimate sporting prize – the Halberg Award – for an unprecedented third time.

Soon after he switched his focus to a different craft gaining a place as a grinder with Team New Zealand for its defence of yachting’s America’s Cup in 2003, where it was badly beaten 5-0 by Alinghi. He was also part of Grant Dalton’s team this year which won the Louis Vuitton Challenger Series before losing to Alinghi again in the America’s Cup match.

Waddell, the first and only person to win the prestigious Halberg Award three times, in 1998, 1999 and 2000, says Team New Zealand’s performance in Valencia this year “had to be seen to be believed. It was an incredible performance for Team NZ to achieve what it did this time and a privilege to be part of the team.” He was also humbled by the incredible support of New Zealanders back home.

Having achieved at the highest level in sport as an individual – Waddell won back-to-back world single scull titles in 1998 and ’99, completing the hat-trick with his Olympic gold medal triumph in 2000 – he says switching over to embrace a team concept, while initially challenging was also “hugely stimulating. You quickly learn that the sum of what you can produce working together as a team is far greater than what you can as an individual.”

While the crew for the 2009 challenge has yet to be confirmed Waddell says he “enjoyed the team dynamic and particularly the culture developed by Grant Dalton.” But with two young children and wife Sonia pregnant again, he says it may be time to focus more on keeping his feet on the ground.

Waddell says he is looking forward to the Westpac Halberg Celebrity Sporting luncheon at the Duxton Hotel on November 2, where he hopes to put “a few Wellington ghosts to rest”. All proceeds from the luncheon will go towards assisting young people with a disability in the Wellington region.

The success of the NZ rowing team at this year’s World Championships where it captured three gold and two silver medals has also left him “hugely encouraged about the future of rowing at next year’s Beijing Olympics and beyond.” And while racing competitively again is one of the last things on his mind, he admits he has been out on Lake Karapiro a few times since returning from Valencia.

“But I wouldn’t read too much into that,” he says. “I just want to keep fit. Some people like to run, some swim and others cycle – but getting out in a skiff is my enjoyment.”

The Wellington luncheon is the last of 11 Westpac Celebrity Sporting Functions around the country, which started in Auckland on August 10 with the 1987 All Blacks tribute lunch. Other keynote speakers included Athens Olympic rowing gold medallists Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell, World Shot Put Champion Valerie Vili and current Halberg Award winner Mahe Drysdale.

Tickets for the Wellington Westpac Celebrity Sporting Dinner are available from Trustee Paul Cameron, Sport Wellington, on 04 389 0234 or office@halberg.co.nz.

ENDS

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