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Strains of God Defend New Zealand rang out across Tokyo’s Sea Forest Waterway, a third gold medal in as many days draped around Lisa Carrington’s neck.
At that stage, late afternoon on Thursday, New Zealand sat eighth on the medal table, with seven golds, one short of their record haul. Eighth, of 88 medal-winning nations. Hot on the heels of Germany, and ahead of the likes of France, Italy, The Netherlands, Canada, South Korea and Spain.
By close of Olympic business on Thursday, New Zealand had eased back to 11th despite two mind-blowing efforts at the velodrome for silver, by Ellesse Andrews and Campbell Stewart.
Ellesse Andrews elated with silver medal for NZ in keirin final.
France, Italy and The Netherlands (Dutch rider Shanne Braspennincx pipped the fast-charging Andrews for gold) drew level in the night session on seven golds, which is the first measure of the Olympic table, followed by total medals.
Four genuine medal hopes remain for New Zealand by Sunday’s closing ceremony: golfer Lydia Ko, Carrington and her three team-mates in the K4 500m, Andrews (women’s sprint) and Stewart (with Corbin Strong in the men’s madison).
None are favourites for gold, but worthy contenders, meaning seven is likely to be New Zealand’s final golden tally. That stands alone, second behind the eight won at Los Angeles in 1984 (seven on water, one on horseback to Mark Todd).
Eleventh on the medal table (although South Korea are closing fast) would be New Zealand’s second-highest finish since they sent their first team to Antwerp in 1920.
The eight LA golds 37 years ago saw New Zealand finish eighth, and the next best haul of six in London in 2012 meant 15th place on this ladder of Olympics supremacy. Last time in Tokyo in 1964, with the great Peter Snell at the peak of his powers, New Zealand’s three golds from a team of 64 saw them finish 12th overall, our second-highest position.
What about per capita, you might ask? According to medalspercapita.com, New Zealand and their tally of 19 were fourth as of Friday afternoon with one medal per every 250,000-or-so people. Little San Marino (three medals), Bermuda and Grenada, two Caribbean islands with one gold apiece, occupied the podium on that ladder with two days of competition left.
Andrews’ and Stewart’s lung-busting efforts on Thursday night ensured a record overall haul for our largest team of 211, passing the 18 (four gold) won in Rio five years ago. Carrington’s three golds made her the most-medalled (gold, and overall) New Zealand Olympian, and when she combined with Caitlin Regal, Teneale Hatton and Alicia Hoskin for a close second in their heat on Friday they kept themselves in the medal conversation for Saturday’s final.
Carrington told Sky TV of the K4 before their heat: “I’m excited. I’ve got three other team-mates that are just so excited to get out there and being able to do it with them supporting me, me supporting them on the water, it’s going to be a completely different feeling. I know that they’re super-amped to get out there and I’ll just feed off that.”
So, what’s been New Zealand’s secret to success? The tier one sports are heavily funded (rowing, canoe sprint, yachting, athletics and cycling got a combined $18.5 million annually from High Performance Sport NZ) while, in a less tangible measure, Carrington said the lack of crowds at these eerie Covid Games may have even helped their chances, especially on Tokyo Bay.
“It’s amazing, because there’s hardly anybody here, all I feel is New Zealand. We are very loud out here, so maybe having less crowds, we can hear them more. Absolutely. And people at home, so much support that’s coming through and the team that we have here on the ground are so invested in each other’s performance and jobs, that support is amazing,” Carrington told Sky TV.
(With two days remaining in Tokyo, NZ sit on 7 golds and 19 medals in all)
MOST NZ GOLD MEDALS AT ONE OLYMPIC GAMES
8 in 1984, Los Angeles – 8th on medal table
6 in 2012, London – 15th
4 in 2016, Rio de Janeiro – 19th
3 in 1964, Tokyo – 12th
3 in 1988, Seoul – 18th
3 in 1996, Atlanta – 26th
3 in 2004, Athens – 24th
3 in 2008, Beijing – 25th
MOST NZ MEDALS AT ONE OLYMPIC GAMES
18 in 2016, Rio de Janeiro (4 gold, 9 silver, 5 bronze)
13 in 2012, London (6 gold, 2 silver, 5 bronze)
13 in 1988, Seoul (3 gold, 2 silver, 8 bronze)
MOST OLYMPIC MEDALS WON BY NEW ZEALANDERS
6*: Lisa Carrington (including 5 gold)
5: Ian Ferguson (4 gold), Paul MacDonald (3 gold), Mark Todd (2 gold)
4: Valerie Adams (2 gold), Blyth Tait (1 gold)
3: Peter Snell (3 gold), Hamish Bond (3 gold), Simon Dickie (2 gold), Danyon Loader (2 gold), Mahe Drysdale (2 gold), Barbara Kendall (1 gold), Peter Burling & Blair Tuke (1 gold), Andrew Nicholson (0 gold)
*with K4 500m in progress