4 April 2020
By Göran R Buckhorn
Olympic bronze medallist in the single sculls Eric Verdonk, of New Zealand, died yesterday morning following a battle with cancer. He was 60 years old.
It was his wife Mandy, daughter Sieska and son Hugo who announced his death on the family’s Facebook page: ‘Our beloved husband and father passed away early this morning. He fought the good fight and as Eric often said: “I’m doing the very best I can’, and he did. He is now at rest in Gods loving arms. We love you.’
Eric Verdonk was born in Taihape in 1959, six years after his parents immigrated to New Zealand from Holland. Verdonk attended Westlake Boys’ High School where he started rowing. He won the Maadi Cup with his high school eight in 1976 and then came to dominate the national single sculls scene for a long time. He broke a record when he took seven national titles in the boat class between 1987 and 1993. In total, Verdonk won 15 national titles, including six in the double sculls with four different partners.
His first major international single sculls success came with a bronze medal at the 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games. Two years later, he took a bronze medal in the single sculls at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Watch a short, one-minute race clip here:
Verdonk almost repeated his bronze medal win four years later at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. He was half a second behind bronze medallist Kajetan Broniewski of Poland.
He also competed in five World Championships in the single sculls, best result being a bronze at the 1990 Championships in Tasmania, Australia. Previously that year, Verdonk won the Diamond Challenge Sculls at Henley Royal Regatta, the first Kiwi to take the title.
At the 1994 Commonwealth Rowing Regatta in Ontario, Canada, Verdonk won the gold medal in the double sculls and a bronze in quadruple sculls.
Verdonk was the head coach at Takapuna Grammar School Rowing Club. In a statement the club wrote: ‘It is with extreme sadness that we share that our beloved Head Coach Eric Verdonk has passed away. Eric was a world-class mentor, guide, coach and all-round gentleman who brought the PRIDE back to Takapuna Grammar School Rowing Club. Although he will be deeply missed by all, his legacy will live on.’
Verdonk was a veteran member of the North Shore Rowing Club, Auckland, and was still competing in masters events as recently as last year. He was described as having a ‘life-long passion for rowing’. In a statement, North Shore RC wrote: ‘A character of immense resilience, determination and courage, Eric’s legacy will forever be etched in North Shore and the NZ rowing communities history’.