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We’re engaged: Mahe Drysdale & Juliette Haigh

Olympic duo Mahé Drysdale and Juliette Haigh talk love, romance and their wedding countdown.

New Zealand Olympic champion and gold medallist Mahé Drysdale isn’t the most romantic man.

Practical and goal-orientated, spontaneity is not one of the rowing great’s strong points, laughs his partner of six years and fellow Olympic medallist, Juliette Haigh.

So when Mahé (34) made the spur-of-the-moment decision to ask Juliette (30) to marry him, as they discussed their future in a Queenstown hotel room, along with a rush of happiness and joy, there was also surprise.

“I knew it would happen one day,” Juliette laughs. “Well, I always hoped that he’d ask me! I felt a bit of relief it had finally happened.”

“The moment just felt right,” adds Mahé.

“I’d been thinking about it for a while, and I’ve known I wanted to marry Juliette for a very, very long time.”

With a stunning view of Lake Wakatipu in the background, Mahé, despite not having a ring, spent a nerve-racking five minutes working out how to

pop the question as they talked.

“When I decide something, I just want to get on with it and do it,” he says with a smile. “So I just asked her to marry me, and she said yes.”

Although it’s been a long time coming, Mahé and Juliette’s engagement signifies a huge change in the Cambridge couple’s life together.

Juliette, who won bronze in the women’s pair at the London 2012 Olympics with rowing partner Rebecca Scown, made the decision last December

to retire from the sport, and Mahé’s taken an extended break from training before he prepares to defend his Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

For the first time “in a really long time”, the easy-going couple have had the opportunity to discuss their future. It was this break away from rowing that gave Mahé the motivation to finally propose.

“It’s our next phase,” he says. “With the Olympics, there was just no room to be thinking about things like marriage. But when we were in Queenstown, actually talking about our future together, I just knew that it was the perfect time to ask her.”

Speaking to the Weekly days after receiving her beautiful diamond engagement ring they designed together, Mahé and Juliette are finally ready to share their exciting news after keeping it a secret from their family for a week to “get used to it” – although Juliette is still coming

to terms with being a fiancée.

“It’s such a funny word!” she laughs, twisting her new ring around her finger. “I like it,” chips in Mahé. “Rather than calling her my girlfriend, there’s something tangible and committed now. I didn’t expect it to feel any different, but it does. We’ve been together for so long, in some ways it felt like we were married. But now it’s of official!”

Mahé and Juliette met in 2001 at Auckland’s West End Rowing Club, and although they were friends for six years before romance blossomed, there was a connection between them almost from the beginning.

“We became closer as flatmates, and then he became the person I’d call if something terrible or amazing happened,” Juliette remembers.

“But there wasn’t any one moment where things changed from being friends to more than friends. It was just such a natural progression.”

Their bond has undoubtedly been strengthened by rowing – it’s how they met and the sport brought them closer as both friends and partners.

It has also made Mahé a household name. The five-time world champion triumphed in 2005 in Japan, despite having broken two vertebrae in a

collision with a water skiier earlier in the year.

And who could forget the Beijing 2008 Olympics, when he made the final of the single sculls, despite a stomach illness?

He battled to bronze and was seen vomiting after the race, establishing a place in the hearts of Kiwi sports fans.

So even though conversation is still dominated by rowing lingo – Juliette playfully tells Mahé off when he refers to their relationship as “going through the processes” – the pair have more of a foundation than just a passion for being on the water.

“We were mates for a long time,” says five-time Halberg winner Mahé, whose trophies, as well as his and Juliette’s medals, are dotted throughout

their Cambridge home.

“And it was a huge risk for us to move into a relationship. But not only did it work, it made our friendship even better. Once we got through those first few months, and I realised that it was going the distance, I knew I wanted to marry her.”

When describing each other, they use the same words – social, messy, gritty, loving and, above all, determined.

“We’re a pretty good team,” Juliette says. “We’re similar people and very competitive!”

“Juliette’s definitely the more romantic one though,” Mahé laughs. “Well, I’ve been trying to teach him,” she says. “I surprised him for his birthday last year and made a big picnic dinner. Our pig tried to steal the lasagne I was carrying, so I ended up having a tug-of-war with the pig and the dish until our flatmate came and rescued me! So even when I try and be romantic, it doesn’t quite go to plan.”

Although it’s down to Juliette to be impulsive, she says Mahé more than makes up for it with his caring nature.

“He’s very affectionate and loving,” she says. “And, to be fair, he has bought me flowers a lot over the years. It’s just more of an in-joke now!”

The luxury of time together is still a novelty for the couple, after a gruelling four years preparing for the Olympics – a time in which they admit rowing came before their relationship.

“It had to be that way,” says Mahé. “But we both knew what the other was going through.”

The pair don’t have much time to enjoy their engagement, with Mahé due to resume training in the coming weeks. But an added bonus has been the

reaction of their families.

“‘It’s about time!’ was the general response when we told them,” Mahé admits.

“It’s awesome to be able to make all of these decisions,” says Juliette. “I was never one of those girls who knew what dress I wanted or anything, although now I kind of wish I was!”

Though they’re taking things one step at a time, Mahé and Juliette have discussed children.

“Talking about kids before the Olympics wasn’t even an option,” Mahé says. “But now, it’s when, not if.”

“That will be the next stage,” Juliette smiles. “But right now I’m focused on the wedding.”

“It’s all real now,” Mahé adds. “We can’t wait!”


Mahé and Juliette designed her diamond and platinum ring together. “It was based on a ring of my mum’s initially,” says Juliette. “But we worked

on it together to get this – it’s quite a big decision, you know that you’ll have to wear it for the rest of your life!”

A .8 diamond set in platinum with millgrain edging and 14 smaller diamonds around the outside, it’s “absolutely perfect” says Juliette.

“My brother picked it up from Worral Jewellers in Auckland and dropped it down, and Mahé was really cute. As soon as he got it, he re-enacted the proposal.

He got down on one knee and asked me again.”

“The ring was snatched away from me before I could even finish the question,” Mahé laughs. “Well, I was really excited!” Juliette says.


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