30 Jun 2016

Olympic hopes buoyed in 'golden age'

9:47 am on 30 June 2016

OPINION: These are heady times for New Zealand sport.

The New Zealand Olympic Committee estimates its team will bring home 14 medals from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

If the stars align and the wind blows the right way, that number might be even higher.

Val Adams, Nick Willis, Mahe Drysdale

Val Adams, Nick Willis, Mahe Drysdale Photo: PHOTOSPORT

We have track and field athletes (Val Adams, Tom Walsh and Nick Willis) who are genuine medal hopes. Our men's track cyclists and road star Linda Villumsen and our rowing squad have performed brilliantly at recent world championships. Lydia Ko is the world's No 1 golfer. Our men's and women's sevens rugby teams rate no lower than fourth going into Rio.

In addition, our sailing and kayaking teams seem sure to get among the medals. And that's not to discount the Mark Todd-led equestrian team and the two hockey combinations.

Things can always go wrong on the biggest sports stage of all, but if the Olympic Committee's hopes are met, New Zealand will achieve a record haul. Our previous best was 13 in 2012 and in 1988.

The quality of the team going to the Olympics illustrates what a golden age this is for New Zealand sport.

In 2006 I was on a panel that chose New Zealand's top 100 sports history-makers. It is incredible that in just a decade since, that list would change markedly.

Our top 10 back in 2006 was Peter Snell 1, Edmund Hillary 2, Richard Hadlee 3, Colin Meads 4, John Walker 5, Jack Lovelock 6, Danyon Loader 7, Bob Charles 8, Yvette Williams 9, Arthur Lydiard 10.

Now at least Val Adams, Richie McCaw, Lydia Ko and Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell would press hard for a top 10 spot.

Adams belongs on the same pedestal as Snell. She has won four outdoor world shot put titles, two Olympic gold medals (with a good chance in Rio of becoming the first New Zealander to win three in a row) and three Commonwealth Games golds.

Certainly to the current generation, McCaw has passed Meads - nearly three times as many tests, two World Cups, All Black captain for nearly a decade. Ko is only 19, but has already won two of golf's Majors. Bob Charles (and Michael Campbell) won one each. And the Evers-Swindells won not only two Olympic rowing golds, but seven world championship medals, three of them gold.

But it's not just Adams, McCaw, Ko and the Evers-Swindells.

Take a scan at this list of Olympic gold medallists, world champions and other sports stars who have also cemented their reputations over the past decade: Daniel Carter (rugby), Val Smith (bowls), Hamish Bond/Eric Murray and Mahe Drysdale (rowing), Lauren Boyle (swimming) Daniel Vettori, Brendon McCullum and Kane Williamson (cricket), Lisa Carrington (kayaking), Scott Dixon (motor racing), Alison Shanks, Linda Villumsen and Hayden Roulston (cycling), Nick Willis (athletics), Ryan Nelsen (football), Laura Langman and Casey Kopua (netball), Steven Adams (basketball), Sophie Pascoe and Mary Fisher (Paralympic swimming), Jo Aleh/Polly Powrie and Blair Tuke/Peter Burling (sailing).

Amazingly, that list does not even include all our Olympic gold medallists over the past decade.

Our top 100 a decade ago covered 120 years of New Zealand sport. It is startling to reflect that in the few years since, at least another 20 New Zealand sports stars would have muscled their way into the top 100.

Everyone will have their favourites, but for the record my top 10 now would be: Snell 1, Hillary 2, McCaw 3, Hadlee 4, Val Adams 5, Meads 6, Walker 7, Loader 8, the Evers-Swindells 9, Charles 10.

After Rio, I would not be surprised if Drysdale, Ko, Pascoe and Carrington were in some people's top 10s.

* Joseph Romanos is a long-time sports journalist and broadcaster, and the author of nearly 50 books.

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