New Zealand Paralympic debutants on edge as Games get underway

10:19 am on 24 August 2021

New Zealand takes a team of 29 into the Paralympics in Tokyo with more than half attending their first Games, while the rest are seasoned and successful veterans.

New Zealand's para cyclist Nicole Murray

Nicole Murray has had success on the international track but Tokyo will be her first Paralympics. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Para cyclist Nicole Murray is one of 18 debutants in the team.

She will be competing on the track and the road in Japan - and is among the first Kiwis in action on Wednesday morning at the velodrome.

Murray has been around the New Zealand high performance programme for years but a lack of recent international competition has her on edge heading into her first Games.

"Being able to make sure that you are able to mentally get through competitions, not being able to consolidate that, has been a bit worrying because I do struggle quite a lot with race nerves and I think I would have like to have practiced international competition a bit more before I got to where I have now."

Also making a return to the world stage is the WheelBlacks rugby side which has not been at a Paralympics in nearly a decade.

New Zealand won gold in Athens in 2004, but failed to qualify for the last two Games.

Cody Everson playing for the Wheel Blacks.

Cody Everson will the WheelBlacks in the team's return to international competition. Photo: Supplied

WheelBlacks captain Cody Everson said although other nations have greater depth in the sport the New Zealanders have been making the most of the talent they do have.

"Training against each other it brings a big competitiveness out and wants you to push harder.

"When we've gone to camps and we've played games they have been really close games between each other and we're really pushed other, so I don't think it's going to be a disadvantage for us."

William Stedman

William Stedman will compete in long jump. Photo: Photosport

Christchurch runner Will Stedman will compete in the 400 metre and long jump in Tokyo - after one of his top events, the 800 metre was dropped for his classification from the Paralympic programme.

Stedman, who has a form of cerebral palsy, claimed bronze in the 800 metre and 400 metre at the 2016 Games in Rio as a 16-year-old and admitted he had the innocence of youth on his side back then.

"I think turned up there not really sure of myself but kinda managed to just do it, I think this time I'm more aware of everything but I'm also a lot more prepared."

Shooter Michael Johnson is selected by Paralympics New Zealand for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
The announcement took place at Parafed Auckand Shooting Club, Auckland, New Zealand on Tuesday 13th July 2021.

Tokyo will be Michael Johnson's fifth Paralympics. Photo: Photosport Ltd 2021

Para shooter Michael Johnson will become one of only three New Zealanders to attend five Paralympic Games.

He won gold on his Paralympic debut in Athens and followed that with bronze medals at the next two games in Beijing and London.

A fourth place finish in Rio and seeing what his competitors were achieving at the recent World Cups motivated the 47-year-old who will compete in 10 metre and 50 metre rifle events.

"I'm always out for a medal, I'm always trying to win. I definitely get more competitive when the competition is there.

"I get to a competition and I'm super excited and really ready to go and it's those moments that you find when you're super nervous and excited that's when you feel you're most alive and I think that's why we actually do it and do it at the high level."

Anna Grimaldi shocked the long jump field when she surpassed world record holders to top the podium at her first Games in Rio.

The other two medallists from those Games have now retired but Grimaldi said with new competitors emerging her task in Tokyo would not be any easier.

"It doesn't matter what I've done leading into it the day before, the week before, if I jump huge, it's only what matters on that day and so that's exciting in itself, it gives everyone a clean start and we can all battle it out on the day so prerequisites don't really exist."

The New Zealand Paralympic team's chef de mission Paula Tesoriero, a former Paralympic gold medal-winning cyclist said although some immune-compromised athletes needed reassurance, every effort is being made to keep the team safe.

The Paralympics run until 5 September and New Zealand will be aiming to improve on their 21 medals won at the last Games.