It was redemption day for New Zealand's star oarsmen as Drysdale and the all-conquering men's pair finally buried their past Olympic disappointments to power their country to the top of the rowing medals table.
Drysdale was a nervous wreck before his single sculls final Friday but the five-time world champion managed to deliver a composed performance to win an elusive gold medal, completing the resume of one of the sport's leading names.
"It's a moment that will live with me forever," he said after being hoisted onto the shoulders of his beaten opponents — silver-medallist Ondrej Synek and bronze-medallist Alan Campbell — on the pontoon.
Hamish Bond and Eric Murray also won their first Olympic gold by doing what they have done for the past three years, blowing away their rivals in the pair to win in typically dominant style.
"We have achieved our goal," Murray said. "It's one thing saying you're going to be Olympic champion, but to become one is just amazing."
With one day of finals left, New Zealand is the leading nation at Dorney Lake with three golds. But Britain and Germany are close behind.
Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins captured the host nation's second gold with victory in the women's double sculls. With Campbell and the pair of George Nash and William Satch both winning bronze, Britain now has six medals in total — matching its best haul in more than 100 years.
The other final on an emotional day in Windsor saw Germany win the quadruple sculls, upsetting favourites Croatia to also claim a second gold of the regatta following its triumph in the blue-ribbon men's eight.
"I cannot express it in words," Germany's Karl Schulze said. "My God, there is nothing better than this."
Drysdale, Murray and Bond were desperate to avenge what happened in the Beijing Games, which they went into as huge favourites but left scarred by failure. Illness struck Drysdale before his single sculls final and he struggled to a bronze medal. London was probably his last shot at Olympic gold and he was feeling the weight of expectation.
"I never really had nerves like this before," he said. "Two hours before the race, I was in the toilet throwing up. It's not a nice feeling. It was probably one of the worst moments of my life."
He showed no lingering effects in the race itself, pushing clear of longtime rival Synek in the third 500 metres and holding on as the Czech made a late sprint for the line.
"I had nothing to give," Drysdale said. "The last 200 metres I was looking for the line, counting the strokes. Just hoping the line was going to come before Ondrej did."
As the early-afternoon sun broke out over the course, both Drysdale and Campbell collapsed with exhaustion onto the jetty.
"It was gladiatorial out there," Drysdale said.
Synek finished a half-length behind to win a second straight Olympic silver. Lassi Karonen of Sweden was overhauled in the final 150 metres by Campbell, a close friend of Drysdale's.
That was a closest finish of the day. The other three finals were wrapped up with 500 metres to go.
Murray and Bond haven't lost since coming together after Beijing, where they were part of a quadruple sculls boat that failed to reach the final.
They have found harmony as a pair, though, and accelerated past a fast-starting French crew to take a three-length lead by 1,500 metres.
The Kiwis won by two lengths, with the French taking silver and Britain bronze despite veering out of its lane in the final stretch of the race.
"Our biggest fear was not being able to deliver what we were capable of," Bond said. "There was a lot of effort and a lot of training gone into this. Somebody did the stats — it was like 17,000 strokes for every one stroke in that final."
Grainger was given the biggest ovation of the day after finally capturing gold following three straight silvers at the last three games. The win maintained her unbeaten run with Watkins since they joined forces in 2010.
Britain's top female rower punched the air after crossing the line in 6 minutes, 55.82 seconds to beat Australia into silver. Poland took the bronze and the punishing effects of their effort showed when Magdalena Fularczyk, the bow of the crew, needed to be pushed in a wheelchair to the podium to collect her medal.
"The gold medal means so much to me because it was proving so elusive," Grainger said. "On the podium, we both knew how special it was. We have had three fantastic years together."