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The secret behind rower Mahe Drysdale’s Olympic win

The star rower shares the tough decision he and wife Juliette were forced to make before his gold medal success in Rio.

Walking through the door of Mahe and Juliette Drysdale’s cosy Cambridge farmhouse, two things are very clear.

One: the Olympians’ medals and trophies – which were once dotted over almost every surface of the house – are now quietly tucked away on high shelves or in drawers, having been replaced by a truckload of toddler toys.

And two: said toys are doing a poor job of trying to corral a rather stubborn two-year-old into holding still for a photo.

In steps dad Mahe (37), lifting daughter Brontë high above his head. The Olympic hero and double gold medallist quickly brings the giggling tot, who’s finally smiling, back down into his arms, turning to the Weekly’s photographer as he exclaims, “Quick! Take the photo.”

Meanwhile, former Olympic rower and bronze medallist Juliette (33) adjusts her dress over her burgeoning baby bump, shakes her head and tries to smooth Brontë’s blonde hair.

“She definitely has a mind of her own,” she remarks, laughing. “What are we going to do when there are two of them?!”

Both Mahe and Juliette are thrilled to announce they’re expecting a little brother or sister for Brontë in early 2017, and while they weren’t planning their second baby quite so soon, they couldn’t be happier at how things have worked out.

Still coming down off the high of Mahé’s incredible gold medal performance at the Rio Olympics – he won his single sculls race by five 1000ths of a second, the tightest rowing race in Games history – the anticipation of their second child has made 2016 a hard year to top.

“It’s been a pretty big year,” smiles Mahe. “We’re incredibly excited about the baby – it’s a really special time.”

But, as is often the case with Mahe and Juliette, despite their best-laid plans, baby number two will arrive earlier than they thought, with the Zika virus epidemic complicating matters.

“Ironically, this was actually plan A,” Mahe begins to explain, shaking his head. “Originally, we thought it’d be great timing if Jules was pregnant during the Olympics, but we’d decided to delay because of Zika.”

However, Mother Nature had other ideas, nods Juliette, who is now 27 weeks along.

“Turns out, you can’t plan everything,” she says with a grin. “We weren’t trying, but it happened.”

Mahe admits he was at first shocked, then incredibly excited.

“Juliette had said she wasn’t feeling very well but I wasn’t either, so I thought, ‘Oh, it’s just something we ate,’” Mahe recalls. “But no, it was a baby!”

Though she was thrilled, Juliette’s happiness was tinged with a little worry. She was due to fly out to Rio with Brontë in a matter of weeks, and with the risk of the virus affecting her unborn baby hanging over her head, she and Mahe had a tough decision to make.

“We researched it pretty heavily,” she says. “As well as seeking medical advice, I talked to people in Rio and realised that the media had overblown the risks.

“I started to feel okay about it. It was such a big moment for our family and it came down to the fact that I wanted to be there, I wanted Brontë to be there and I was comfortable that the risk was minimal. I was still really careful in Rio, but it wasn’t an issue.”

Forging ahead with their plans, Juliette and Brontë flew first to Slovenia, where Mahe trained in the lead-up to the Games.

“We had three weeks together there, which was amazing. It was nice to have a bit of a distraction when I wasn’t training,” says Mahe.

“Brontë came out for a row in the boat and she’s sitting there yelling, ‘Faster, Daddy, faster!’” he recalls. “And I could just switch off after training. It’s a big mental battle, so to have the girls there in that downtime was so special.

“Plus, I was away for four months – it would have been incredibly tough to be separated from them for that long. I would’ve missed so much – and having Brontë there meant I could try and keep Daddy as the favourite,” he adds, throwing a cheeky look over at Juliette.

Unsurprisingly, Brontë has already displayed a keen interest in rowing, and it only grew during her time in Slovenia and Brazil.

“We’d walk Mahe to rowing each day and we’d be waiting on the pontoon when he came in,” tells Juliette. “Brontë was trying to carry not just Mahe’s oars, but all of the rowers – which didn’t work out so well, as you can imagine! But she loves being down there and by the water.”

Indeed, not-so-little Brontë – she’s 100th percentile for height and weight – is proving to be quite the adventurer. Standing in the lounge with her hands on her hips, she declares we should all go outside to feed her pet lamb – aptly named Lambie – and refuses to put on the sparkly shoes Mum has handed her.

“No, gumboots!” she squeals, pulling them on before promptly tugging them off and racing to the paddock.

“She loves being outside,” says Mahe, following in Brontë’s wake. “Even if it’s just walking up and down the driveway.”

Adds Juliette, “She totters to the gate with her pram, which is a bit of a worry. I don’t know where she thinks she’s going!”

It was a euphoric Juliette and a slightly bemused but beaming Brontë that were first to congratulate Mahe after he won his gold medal in Rio, where he beat Croatian Damir Martin by the smallest of margins.

“I thought he’d won silver,” admits Juliette. “I just wanted him to have the best race possible and he did. So I was actually really happy – and then someone told me he’d got the gold and I just lost it. I couldn’t believe it.”

Mahe himself had to wait for two agonising minutes in his boat, with no idea of the result.

“It felt like half an hour,” he admits. “But when my name came up on the board, oh, I was absolutely over the moon.”

But the best part for the Olympian was getting a cuddle from Brontë, with the cheeky toddler only too happy to smile for the cameras as she held out her dad’s medal.

“It’s a shame she’s not doing it now,” Juliette dryly remarks.

The proud parents reckon she’s “mildly interested” in the idea of a new brother or sister. Mahe and Juliette have chosen not to find out the gender – well, Mahe doesn’t want to know, Juliette is a bit more impatient, but is trying her best to resist.

“Every now and then, Brontë comes over to kiss my tummy, but mostly, she’s just full steam ahead Brontë,” smiles Juliette.

Adds Mahe, “She has a little doll that we call Baby, so if we say ‘Where’s Mummy’s baby?’ she touches Juliette’s tummy. She gets it. It’ll be interesting, though, she doesn’t like it when Juliette picks up other babies!”

“She’ll get used to it!” Juliette laughs.

And she’ll have Dad around to help her adjust, with Mahe planning on taking an extended break from rowing so he can be there for the birth and to help afterwards.

“I’ll be here to be Daddy daycare,” he grins.

“I have until mid-November to make a decision as to what I want to do with rowing,” explains Mahe. “I’m pretty certain I’ll have a few more months off afterwards.”

Mahé still hasn’t made the final decision about his rowing future. While he still loves what he does and feels privileged to represent New Zealand on the world stage, he says he has to be realistic.

“I would love to go to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020,” he tells, “but I’m 37 now, so I’d be 41. I’d have to be sure that my body could hold up. If I go on, it won’t be to make up numbers; I’d need a legitimate chance of repeating that gold medal.”

Plus, he admits he’s really enjoying a bit of time off.

“Though, I seem to have been quite busy, but I haven’t achieved much,” he ponders, while Juliette rolls her eyes. “

There’s still a bag he hasn’t unpacked and we’ve been home six weeks!” she laughs.

But it’s the time he’s been able to spend with Brontë that’s most important for both Mahe and Juliette.

“It’s special,” says the proud father. “Having that time with her is amazing and we’re really grateful for that. Juliette has finished work for now and is a full-time mum, and we’re so lucky we’re in a position to do that. It’s something I think is really important. I remember my mum was always around for me and I want Brontë to be able to have that too.”

And while the couple – who have been married for three years – know welcoming a new bundle of joy in January will mean more sleepless nights, chaos and a lot more mess, they couldn’t be more content.

“No-one has a two-year-old and a tidy house, but it’s a happy mess!” Juliette laughs.

“But I’ll tell you this much,” Mahe grins as he squeezes little Brontë. “This baby will not be as spoilt as the last one!”

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