After years of world domination in rowing, Hamish Bond is something of a household name in New Zealand (and around the globe). We find out more about the golden athlete whose determination to succeed never seems to wane.
While most commonly paired with teammate Eric Murray for their total domination of world pairs in rowing, Hamish’s achievements in the sport would be more than enough for most people to hang up the oars and put their feet up.
However, it seems to have only whet his hunger for success and led him down a new path. That path that still means wearing a skintight lycra suit, but instead of oars, Hamish has swapped his gear for an aero helmet and time trial bike.
New Zealand media has followed Hamish’s code switch closely, inspired by the challenge of such a daunting code switch and impressed by his almost immediate success in his new discipline.
Often overlooked in this success story are the small details, and the work ethic which Hamish undertakes to make performing to his potential not just a possibility, but a near certainty.
Having been in the New Zealand rowing team alongside Hamish for five years, and shared a boat with him and Eric for a short period of time, I can testify that he leaves absolutely no stone unturned in his quest for perfection.
From the outside, it would be easy to see the code switch as a huge risk, but what many people don’t understand is the intricacy of elite sport, and the thousands of hours of repetitive training that goes on behind the scenes.
Hamish is not someone to stand idly by and let that monotony consume him, so went looking for a new challenge.
“I think the biggest challenges have come from stepping completely into the unknown. Rowing is a very structured sport, you know what the targets are each year, especially when you’ve been at the top end of the sport for as long as I had.” He says the simplicity of rowing training and the known expectations were good. However, after 11 years at the top level they were starting to show signs of wear and tear.
“I guess in some ways I was also becoming stale, so moving to cycling with my particular approach to the sport focusing on time trials – no one’s really done that before.”
To put his commitment to this transition in perspective, I was in the adjacent apartment to Hamish at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games village.
When the rest of the athletes were sleeping in on the morning after the rowing regatta finished, Hamish was outside on the balcony. He wasn’t gazing out at the towers of apartment blocks or the walking tracks lined with palm trees. He was head down on the handlebars of his bike, sweat dripping into a puddle underneath him, winding the wind trainer so hard it made a bloody awful racket.
Hamish competed in the 2016 Tour of Southland, showing the cycling world he was a force to be reckoned with and a true workhorse.
Having decided to specialise on individual time trial, which is perhaps the purest form cycling has to offer, in 2017 Hamish flew to the UK in a quest to reduce his drag and make him as slippery as possible.
“I guess my biggest take away from that was teaming up with an outfit called Aerocoach who specialise in aerodynamics while time trialing. Essentially from my work with them I managed to reduce my CdA (Coefficient of drag area).
“Essentially it’s a measure of how much drag you produce and I reduced that by 10 percent over my course in the UK. Which means when you’re traveling at near 50kmh you’re going 1.6kmh faster for the same amount of power, so that sort of speed increase is massive in terms of your performance in a time trial.”
Perhaps one of the biggest signals that his hard work is paying off was winning the national championship individual time trial at the beginning of 2018, and gaining selection to the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
Hamish went on to claim the Bronze medal on the Gold Coast, and therefore most likely punching his selection ticket to the World Championships to be held in Austria.
Fuelling the fire
One thing constantly overlooked with our top athletes are the setbacks they’ve had along the way.
Hamish enjoyed an unbeaten run of 71 international races over an eight year period in rowing, but that came off the back of multiple challenges, perhaps the most obvious being the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“That was quite a challenging year, never really feeling comfortable in the boat, bouncing from one thing to another knowing that we were capable of going fast, but we could never sort of find our rhythm and executing was pretty challenging.
“And then to ultimately miss out on the A-Final at the Olympics as world champions was a bit of a step back from what our expectations were.
“In saying that, I didn’t dwell on it too much at the time as I was only 21 years old and thought I still have a fair future in the sport. I guess I bounced back and used it as a learning experience. It reinvigorated me in some ways.”
This ability to turn a disappointing result around, and use it as fuel for the next step, is one of the key points separating Hamish and other highly successful athletes from the rest of the pack.
Strain and pain
It seems even being super successful can bring with it added difficulties depending on the type of character you have as a person. For Hamish, who is incredibly determined to be the best, and to continually improve, the pressure to live up to his own expectations became a very real strain on his mind, particularly towards the latter part of his rowing career.
“When I’m looking at 2016 in particular, going out every race and knowing that you have eight years of history in terms of our unbeaten record on the line every race was quite challenging mentally. I did put a lot of pressure on myself and that did wear me down a little bit towards the end.”
Not only has Hamish changed sports and direction over the past two years, he has also recently become a father. When asked if this had added extra elements to his career planning, Hamish says: “I’ve been lucky that Lizzie has been very supportive of what I do and has essentially enabled me to carry on much as I did before.
“I’ve tried to make a few adjustments to my training in order to be around and be helpful and try to do my part where I can. But unfortunately elite sport is very uncompromising, and as soon as you start making compromises or letting things slip, you’re not giving yourself the best chances of success.”
I asked Hamish whether becoming a father had changes his perspective at all.
“I think it’s added to my understanding of where sport is in the grand scheme of things.
“Essentially all we are doing is playing games, and I’m very privileged to be able to pursue these opportunities to the best of my abilities.
“Even though they mean a lot at the time, when you boil it down, family, health and those sort of things are far more important than going out and racing either in rowing or cycling. So I guess having Imogen and wanting the best for her has added to that perspective on life.”
It’s clear that Hamish leaves no stone unturned in his pursuit of sporting excellence. Elite sport rarely comes with any guarantees or certainties, but he will be is driven to give himself the best opportunity to succeed in anything he does. It’s just who he is.