Tony O’Connor, double Olympian and coach the NZ Tokyo Olympic Men's Eight inspired Maadi rowers with his insightful parade speech.

 

Tony’s speech:

 

A month out from the 2020 Olympic Games, my daughter Lucy came home with a school project. It was titled “What Excellence means to me”. She asked me if I could get the boys I was then coaching to do a short piece to camera on that subject.

I’d like to read the transcript of one of those to you now.

 

Hi, my name is Tom Mackintosh,

Now in about a month’s time we are going to be racing at the Tokyo Olympic Games against six other nations in the men’s 8 over 2000 metres.

Excellence in that event to a lot of people would be coming home with a gold medal.

But to be honest, excellence to me is irrelevant of the result.

 The things I’m most proud of are the hard work, the dedication, and the sacrifice that we have made as a crew, with our support staff, with our coaches, with our physiotherapists, our psychologists, our nutritionists, our strength and conditioning coaches and our managers.

You name it, there’s a whole myriad of people getting us across the line, and that’s where I see true excellence.

When you’ve got a group of people working together to achieve a common goal, day to day, inch to inch whatever it may be.

Irrelevant of the result, we’re super proud of what we’ve achieved as a team in the lead up to the Games.

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Tom Mackintosh competing at the 2023 World Rowing Championships in the M1x. Tom is currently in the NZ Team who are competing at the 2024 World Rowing Cup II in May. 

I look out at the sea of colour before me here today. You come dressed in your school uniforms, weaving your fantastic school banners. This week you will race in your schools rowing suit, with their colours on your oars.

That is right and proper. You identify with your school and your rowing club. It is special to you. It gives you a sense of belonging, a place, a community.

But I urge you to look around you. Look at all these athletes from Iona College, from Christchurch Girls High, from Hamilton Boys High and the Selwyn Hut Warriors from St Thomas’s of Canterbury.

You have so much more in common with these people here in this field than you do with the vast majority of your school mates back home.

Normal people will never understand us. We are mad. Gloriously mad! We must be to do the things we do.

These people around you today understand you. They understand blisters, they understand wake boarders and water skiers.

They understand outside lanes and inside hands. They understand the dread of a 2k ergo and the indescribable feeling when your boat seems to fly over the water.

These people are your community, your belonging, your family. And when you look across at them in the lane beside you it is right to want to be faster than them. It is right to want to win. But it’s so much more right to respect them.

I have never simply respected people because they win rowing races. I respect people who try to be excellent. Who work hard, but with honesty, integrity and respect for themselves, their teammates, their opposition and the for the traditions of our sport.

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Tony O'Connor delivering his speech to rowers at the 2024 Aon Maadi Regatta parade. Photo: Sharron Bennett. 

I am not going to wish you luck because you’ve made your own luck. Neither am I going to hope the best crew wins. Like Tom Mackintosh, winning and medals comes well down my list of what is important in sport.

Rather I’d like to wish that you do your best. Be the best you can be. Not to win but to seek perfection.

Celebrate our sport this week, celebrate our madness but most of all celebrate each other. To be part of this family is a privilege that outweighs any medal, schools or Olympic you will ever win.