When the winning rowers flash over the line at the London Olympics you can almost guarantee that at least some of them will be holding a highly advanced Australian made oar.
Owner and founder of Croker Oars, Howard Croker, said: "Almost every team has got a portion of their squad using our oars. We have a much lower percentage of oars than our American opposition but we win the greater percentage of medals.
"The athlete who can feel the difference uses our oars, and we are all about the feel. We believe if the athlete is comfortable they can go to work to win. We never ever say our oar is faster. We always believe that if the athlete is comfortable they can go faster, which they are with our equipment," he said.
Mr Croker began crafting timber oars in his parents' shed in Sydney in 1962 after completing his apprenticeship as a boat builder. He had been introduced to rowing by his father, who was rowing coach at private boys school Newington College. "Rowing was definitely in my genes," said Mr Croker.
Through the years and the advancements in technology, particularly the arrival of light-weight carbon fibre in the 1980s, Mr Croker has constantly changed and improved the design of his oars to stay one step ahead of his competitors.
"We keep innovating. I can recall Milan, before Athens, we made an oar there. Then we raced it in Athens, and the only thing that was the same from two years before was the handle. The shaft, the blade, the sleeve, everything had changed. So we just keep a little bit here, a little bit there. Right now the French are using a new blade shape for us for London," he said.
Eighteen months ago Croker Oars launched a computerised oar at the World Rowing Championships in New Zealand. "That's an oar that will tell you every stroke you've done, how you’ve taken the stroke, how you feather, the horsepower and grunt on the oar.
"Our dream eventually is to have eight oars racing and you could then come in and download and you'll really find out who's pulling their weight and who's not. That's our dream. It's going very well," said Mr Croker.
Croker Oars has moved its manufacturing and research centre from Sydney four hours north to isolated Oxley Island on the banks of the Manning River at Taree. "We have 2,000 square metres of factory behind us," he said, indicating the water. "It is just so much better than any other environment."
Despite the isolation the home of Croker Oars has become a place of pilgrimage to the world's leading rowers. "It's amazing the amount of people around that have been here because of the situation. We've got a sandy beach a kilometre down that way. We have a sandy beach we boat from. Where do you get that anywhere else in the world? Not too often," he said.
When the rowers leave, they take Australian made oars with them. "At the World Rowing Championships last year we won eight gold medals, seven of them Olympic events. That was a fantastic result," said Mr Croker, who hoped it would be replicated at the Olympic Games.
"I'm confident that we're going to get a lot of luck in London," he said.
The expertise of Australian firms such as Croker Oars will be showcased to global decision makers at a special event in London during the Games, during which a free app detailing the ‘who’s who’ of the Australian major sporting event industry, Track Record will be launched. The event will be held under the banner of Australia Unlimited, the nation brand which highlights Australia’s creativity, innovation and sophistication.
A special edition of the Australia Unlimited iPad magazine app celebrating Australian contribution to the London Olympics will be published on the day of the Opening Ceremony. It will feature stories of major Australian sporting event specialists such as Populous who have designed the London Olympic Stadium and Di Henry who is managing the London 2012 celebrations for the Greater London Authority among others.
The Australia Unlimited iPad app is a free monthly magazine available for download from the App store. It tells the story of contemporary Australia through the achievements of its people at home and abroad. For more information on Australian contribution to the London Olympics, download the app or visit www.australiaunlimited.com.
Samantha Mattila | Tel: +61 2 9390 2388 | Mob: +61 434 567 673
For further news and information from the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) visit www.austrade.gov.au/mediacentre
*Transcript of full interview here