Obituary

Harry Mahon, OBE, rowing coach, was born in Wanganui, New Zealand, on January 15, 1942. He died on May 19, 2001, aged 59. 

"The Times". May 21, 2001.

HARRY MAHON rounded off his medal collection when the British eight he had helped to coach won gold at the Sydney Olympics. Coming 24 hours after Steve Redgrave's triumph in the coxless fours, it was the first time Britain had won since 1912.

Mahon first became involved in British rowing in the autumn of 1992 when he was invited to have a look at the Cambridge set-up. At that time he was Switzerland's chief coach, having already achieved international success in New Zealand and Canada. Cambridge had lost 16 of the previous 17 Boat Races, and what Mahon found was dispiriting. "They went out rowing, came back and the body language was all about losing." Nevertheless Mahon, who had an affinity for lost causes, took them on. He had begun coaching in 1966, and over the years had developed an unrivalled understanding of the mechanics of rowing. His genius was in teaching people to row to their full potential. When the 1993 Cambridge eight chose to finish their preparations not on the Thames but on the flatter water of the National Rowing Centre in Nottingham, their status as 4-1 underdogs seemed more than justified. Within a mile the race was all but over. Cambridge pulled easily away, establishing an early lead of two-and-a-half lengths. Oxford fought hard, but never made an impression. So began the modern era of Cambridge domination.

Harold Thomas Mahon was born in New Zealand. His uncle and grandfather were rowers and he joined the Wanganui Rowing Club at an early age. He studied geography at Victoria University, eventually becoming a teacher - although he considered giving that up to become a rugby coach. Though standing just 5ft 8in tall and weighing 11 stone, Mahon rowed with some success in his native country, where he also played rugby and cricket. During 1982 and 1983 he worked with the New Zealand crews that won two golds, a silver and a bronze at the world championships. At the 1988 Seoul Olympics he guided the New Zealand coxless pair to the bronze. Like many rowing coaches he kept a low profile, preferring influence to fame. He claimed to have no plan to his teaching. "I just start," he said. "I'm tapping into the programme I've built over 35 years. I have a very definite idea of what the rowing stroke should look like and how to achieve it."

As well as his Cambridge and Olympic commitments, Mahon coached at Radley, worked with a women's crew in Oxford and continued in recent months to support members of the British men's squad on the Thames. In 1999, ill with cancer, he ran the London Marathon. Even the opposition paid tribute: "I'll tell you why Cambridge have been beating Oxford in the Boat Race year after year," said one Oxford coach. "Harry Mahon. That's why."

Harry Mahon was separated from his wife, Rita Wood, and is survived by his partner, Sarah Warburton.

Major Coaching Titles:
1977 NZ4- Silver Medal World Championships, 1982-1983 NZ8+ Gold Medal World Championships, 1982 NZW1x Bronze Medal World Championships, 1988 Olympics - Swiss 2X Silver Medal, NZ W2- Bronze Medal, 1997 GB 1X Bronze Medal World Championships, 2000 Olympics GB 8+ Gold Medal, 1993-1999 & 2001 Boat Races (Cambridge)
Honors:
OBE 1982, Hew Zealand Sports Hall of Fame (1982 NZ8+, inducted 1995), named New Zealander of the Year in Britain 2001.

 

REad tributes to Harry

Tributes to Harry Mahon on the Total Rowing Website

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