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The great man of Otago rowing reaches a milestone this weekend. Fred Strachan has packed a lot into his 90 years, as Alistair McMurran reports.
New Zealand rowing guru Fred Strachan will start his 70th year in the sport in six weeks - but retirement is far from his mind.
Strachan's first competitive season for the North End Rowing Club was in 1945-46, when his coxed four won the Maiden Cup.
He started coaching at the North End club and with King Edward Technical College in 1952.
''I plan to keep going,'' Strachan said.
''It keeps me occupied, maintains my interest and helps keep me young.''
Strachan has lost count of the number of national titles his crews have claimed. But he knows that 70 of his rowers have gone on to represent New Zealand. He takes great pride in that.
''It is not a bad achievement for my 70 years in the sport,'' he said.
What pleases Strachan the most has been ''what I have contributed to other people to enable them to achieve their best and have a future in the sport''.
Strachan was in London last year to see Hamish Bond, one of his greatest rowers, win the Olympic gold medal in the pair with Eric Murray.
''It was something special. To win the gold medal by over a length with clear water was outstanding.''
Bond and Murray also broke the world record that had been held by two English knights, Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent.
The first highlight of Strachan's coaching career was in 1960 when the North End crew of Bart Scott, Les Arthur, Noel Montgomery, John Barton and cox Keith Arthur won the Boss Rooster in the men's premier four in Picton.
''It was a very young crew with two rowers aged 18, one 19 and the other one 20,'' Strachan said. The next highlight came after he had shifted to Christchurch and his Avon club crew won the Boss Rooster three years in a row from 1974 to 1976.
The third highlight came in 1976 when his Avon crew won the men's premier eight.
Strachan could have won more New Zealand titles with his crews if he had not aimed for the big ones.
''We might have won more titles if I'd been more prudent and gone for a target in a weaker field or in a lower grade,'' Strachan said.
A typical example of this was in 1974, when Avon's Athol Earl and Trevor Coker were the titleholders in the championship coxed pair.
''I persuaded them not to defend their title because I felt it would harm their chances in other races,'' Strachan said.
''They didn't win the other races.''
Another regret came when Rowing New Zealand decided not to support the South Island Rowing Association's bid to hold the world junior championships at Lake Ruataniwha in the early 1990s.
''We'd put in lot of work and effort and there was a lot of support from a lot of people in the South Island,'' Strachan said.
''The regatta would have run at a profit and would have benefited South Island rowing.''
All the research and effort came to nothing when the president of Rowing New Zealand vetoed the application on the grounds that it would put a strain on the volunteers and affect fundraising to send crews to overseas events.
''We had the rug pulled from under our feet and weren't given the final chance to take our case to the International Rowing Federation where we were confident that we would have won the vote.''
Strachan said the formation of Lake Ruataniwha had lifted the standard of South Island rowing by providing better competition.
Rowing used to be provincial but the South Island associations now compete together at the Otago, Canterbury and South Island championships.
''Ruataniwha has brought all the crews from Nelson to Bluff together and the standard of the competition has gone up,'' Strachan said.
Fred Strachan's 90th birthday will be celebrated with a dinner tomorrow night, and an open morning tea at the North End Rowing Club on Sunday from 10am.
Fred Strachan's top four
- Athol Earl (Avon) - Olympic Games gold medal in eight, 1972.
-Bart Scott (North End) - stroke in winning Boss Rooster crew, 1960.
- Wybo Veldman (Avon) - best in world in No 7 seat of eight. Olympic gold medal, 1972.
-Hamish Bond (North End) - in a class of his own as Olympic and four-time world champion and world record-holder. Best stroke in the world.