One of Oamaru’s golden rowers returned to his roots this week. Win Stephens chat to Kayla Hodge about some of his rowing memories, and the indescribable feeling of having a boat named after him.
Win Stephens brushes away tears as he speaks about having an Oamaru Rowing Club boat named after him.
At the weekend’s Aoraki 1000m Regatta, the club unveiled its new fours boat — the Win Stephens.
‘‘After that many years, to still be remembered, let alone be remembered to the degree that they’re going to name a boat after you . . .to me you just couldn’t get a nicer thing,’’ Stephens said.
Stephens was part of Oamaru’s 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning four crew, alongside Bill Smedley and the late Keith Heselwood and George Paterson.
Stephens said he received a call ‘‘out of the blue’’ from the club’s late coach Owen Gould, who said the boat would be named after him at the Aoraki regatta.
He made the trip to Twizel for the occasion, and said it was ‘‘just absolutely incredible’’. It was extra special that Oamaru Olympic rower Gary Robertson had worked on the boat.
‘‘That just shows the depth of Oamaru rowing.’’
After the regatta, Stephens, who lives in a motorhome, spent the week in Oamaru.
His face lit up when he spoke to the Oamaru Mail about his rowing memories with the ‘‘Oamaru Four’’.
Stephens and Paterson started rowing one year after Smedley and Heselwood, but the novice pairing soon proved they deserved a shot at the big stage, winning several championships together.
‘‘We were just lucky. The club had a very good four, but when it came to the big races they just couldn’t win. They decided they were going to put George and me into the four,’’ Stephens said.
Stephens, Smedley, Heselwood and Paterson, coached by the ‘‘incredible’’ Rusty Robertson, trained together at the Oamaru Harbour and the Waihao Box, and it was the start of something great.
The town got behind the Oamaru Rowing Club, helped by Mayor Bill Laney and Rex Allen, which helped the crew on their path to the Commonwealth Games.
Once selected to represent New Zealand, the four had a ‘‘civic send-off’’, which was unheard of at the time, Stephens said.
‘‘We had to stand on stage like a bunch of moreporks while Bill said ‘you bring home the bacon, we’ll have the eggs’.’’
The crew returned as gold medallists and flew into an empty Oamaru Airport.
But as they drove into town, the streets were lined with people waving at their rowing heroes, and they were taken to the Oamaru Opera House for a welcome home ceremony in front of 3000 people.
Laney kept true to his word and presented the crew with six porcelain eggs.
‘‘He said ‘you brought home the bacon, here are the eggs’ — I never forgot that,’’ Stephens said.
In 1964, the crew competed in their 29th and final race together — and lost.
‘‘It was the only time the crew actually never felt right. I have no idea why,’’ hesaid.
‘‘It was an incredible time and that’s just a fact of life, you win a few and every now and again you lose one.’’
Shortly after, Stephens moved to Whangarei and has spent most of his life since in the North Island.
Stephens said the Oamaru Rowing Club would always hold a special place in his heart — there was ‘‘no doubt about that’’ — and he was proud of its continued success.
‘‘You’ve only got to look at what they’ve got. That course up at Twizel, any club that has access to a facility like that if they’ve got reasonable sort of young people who are keen enough will be a successful rowing club.’’