5 Mar 2024

Olympic hopefuls plan for Paris 2024

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 5 March 2024

For New Zealand athletes, preparing for the Olympics means more than just being at the top of their sport 

Kurtis Imrie

Kurtis Imrie Photo: RowingCelebration

With less than five months until the 2024 Paris Olympic Games begin, New Zealand has begun to announce its athletes. Speed climbers Julian David and Sarah Tetzlaff are the first who have been selected to represent the country at the summer games. 

Plenty of others are showing promise - at the just-concluded World Athletics Indoor Championships in Glasgow, pole vaulter Eliza McCartney and shot putter Tom Walsh both claimed silver medals, and Hamish Kerr broke New Zealand records and took gold in the men's high jump. And with an incredible final kick, Geordie Beamish became the World Indoor 1500-metre champion, landing New Zealand in third place on the medal table behind the USA and Belgium.  

RNZ sports correspondent Dana Johannsen says it is too early to know how many athletes the team will have, but she does have an estimate. 

"As a bit of a gauge, there were 199 athletes at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016, in Tokyo there were 212, so I expect that the team will once again sort of be in that 190-200 range," says Johannsen. 

One of the athletes expected to compete in Paris this summer is discus thrower Connor Bell. He's won the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games title, and the gold medal at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games - two events which helped prepare him for the pressure. 

"You get hit with a lot of nervous energy and it's almost about rather than finding ways to overcome it, it's about letting all that nervous energy in and using it to enable your performance," he says. "I'm expecting it to be pretty intimidating, but that's a good thing." 

Bell also has a good support system around him, including a sports psychologist, nutritionist, physio, throwing coach, and a strength and conditioning coach. 

"I also have an athlete life manager who helps me deal with the logistics of managing some of the life stuff and organising my schedule around competitions and finding ways to manage time while I'm overseas," he says. 

Sarah Tetzlaff (left) and Julian David went home with the men and women's titles in speed climbing at the Sport Climbing Oceania in Melbourne.(Supplied by IFSC)

Sarah Tetzlaff (left) and Julian David went home with the men and women's titles in speed climbing at the Sport Climbing Oceania in Melbourne.(Supplied by IFSC) Photo: IFSC / Supplied

Another hopeful is canoe and kayak sprinter Kurtis Imrie.

"We're trying to create a pretty awesome culture around putting the boat first," he says, "Obviously there's nine of us going for four spots, [there's] only going to be four guys sitting in that boat at the games, so everything we do throughout the day is going to impact the boat that's going to be competing at the Olympics." 

For these athletes, the Olympic experience will likely be a bit more typical than for those who represented their countries at the last Olympics. Covid-19 delayed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics until 2021, and the ongoing pandemic made for a strange atmosphere.

"There were no crowds, athletes were kept very much in a bubble and separate from one another where it was possible, so those that did go probably missed out on that traditional Olympic experience," says Johannsen. 

In Paris, organisers originally expected a crowd of well over half a million at the opening ceremonies, which will be the first ever to be held outside of a stadium. This has since been revised to an estimated 300,000. Athletes will parade alongside the Seine River, ending at the Eiffel Tower. 

But this plan hasn't been without hiccups. 

"You're seeing a number of issues in France in terms of terrorist threats, there's also been rioting, that sort of affected the rugby World Cup," says Johannsen. "So that's been one of the huge [issues] -- as it is for all Olympic Games -- is security, but certainly heightened for Paris." 

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