We asked a dozen All Blacks who their athletes of the year were, then commissioned essays on those they chose. In equal second place: rowers Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, profiled by James McOnie.
They’re like a cute old couple.
One of them is sensible, methodical and disciplined. The other is bold, mischievous and charismatic. Both finish each other’s sentences, both enjoy a laugh, both have blond ambition. Somehow Hamish Bond and Eric Murray have formed the perfect Bond and Murray.
They’re great together, so driven and dogged, but was there chemistry from the start? Hell no!
“I thought Eric was an egotistical boofhead,” Bond told me earlier this year in a Skype interview. “That was the first meeting.”
Murray was also part of that Skype interview. He just smiled at let his partner have his say. So I guess it was like a Jane Austen novel, because Murray eventually won him over. “It took some time I must admit,” said Bond. “I still haven’t completely changed my mind but I’ve learnt to deal with it.” Now’s a good time to point out that this is very dry southern wit.
Bond is an Otago man. He boarded at Otago Boys’ High a few years after Richie McCaw (both were head prefect). Bond’s father organises school bus routes for most of New Zealand. I guess he’s sensible, methodical and disciplined too.
Murray is a bit of rough from Pukekohe. A rebel. Not the best student at Pukekohe High, not the worst either, but definitely one of the best athletes the potato capital has produced. It’s a town that’s produced a broad variety of sporting heroes (Sir Edmund Hillary, Possum Bourne, Jonah Lomu, Simon Doull, NFL star David Dixon).
Murray admitted he probably wasn’t the nicest to Bond in the early days at Rowing NZ’s team training sessions (circa 2006).
“I was trying to stay in the team and Hamish was the new guy trying to come into the team. I guess you do tell the young guys what to do and that’s probably what I did to Hamish.”
But after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, they were put in a boat, just the two of them, and magic happened. Since then they’ve been in sync and unsinkable. They have NEVER lost. It’s the longest winning streak in international rowing. Their narrowest victory was the 2010 world champs, beating Great Britain by 0.3 seconds.
Bond and Murray romped home in the 2012 Olympics, winning gold by two boat lengths. In their heat, they slashed the world’s best time for the men’s coxless pair by six seconds, storming home in 6m08.50s.
They live a very sheltered lifestyle. It’s Cambridge and Lake Karapiro for most of the year and then off to Europe in June for months of training and competition, and cycling in the Swiss alps (where cyclists are respected and protected). Food is a huge motivator because even though they have to be fit, they also have to be quite big. Eric likes potato chips but holds more fat so he has to watch what he eats more. I feel his pain, but only that fat pain, not the training pain that’s a daily ritual.
This cute old couple don’t squabble that much. If they’re rooming together in Europe, the main issue is Eric staying up late Skyping his family. “I just turn off the lights and put on a mask,” said Bond. “He gets the message.”
On the water, they use animal analogies to fine-tune their form. Gazelle = graceful speed. Dolphin = “cutting through the water with that rise and fall, because rowing isn’t constant speed, it’s rise and fall”, explains Bond.
In September on a French lake at the foot of the Alps, Bond and Murray called out animal names as they rowed their way to their eighth world championship gold medal. Let’s not talk about whether they’re greatest rowing crew of all time. That’s a conversation to have after Rio next August.
After ribbing his crewmate about his ego, Bond conceded: “I’m also probably egotistical but I keep it bottled up at times. Most elite sportspeople, you’ve got to have a degree of self-confidence and belief to get to the top. And it is very New Zealand to be not too overly proud of it.”
Ah yes, the no skiting rule. Very Kiwi. Well, no skiting till mid-August anyway.