Opinion: New Zealandís Olympic performance satisfactory, but not ground-breaking

Opinion: New Zealandís Olympic performance satisfactory, but not ground-breaking

Whether it was the overhyping of the media, or failure to perform on the biggest stage, I think it’s fair to say that New Zealand’s performance at the Olympics so far has been a bit underwhelming. At the time of writing, New Zealand has eight medals, consisting of two gold and six silver. Having heard talk of a record-breaking medal haul, and even the possibility of doubling the amount we won four years ago, one feels a bit let down. However, there has been a number of brilliant performances from our athletes that made our nation proud. For that reason, these games can still be seen as a success.

Before the games started in Rio, the NZHerald predicted that we could come away with a total of 32 medals. Having watched the first week of competition, it’s safe to say that will not be happening. It seems that a more realistic target was the 14 set by High Performance Sport NZ. Of course, by the time this goes to print, the landscape of NZ’s Olympic effort will have changed drastically from what it is now. Therefore, I will only analyse the performances of those that have already competed. For me a good performance does not always have to end in a medal. The ability to step up on the big stage and record a personal best, break a national record, or exceed expectation is how I judge it. We have had many athletes that have performed extremely well in their events, despite not making the podium. However, there have been others that have underperformed. Unfortunately, many of these athletes were expected to be on the podium.

First, let’s look at those that exceeded expectations. Most notably, Natalie Rooney and Luuka Jones came from virtually nowhere to both win silver medals. In other events, Dylan Schmidt surprised everyone by coming 7th in the trampoline; Zane Robertson broke a 39-year-old national record in his 12th place finish in the 10000m; swimmers Corey Main and Bradlee Ashby broke personal bests; while the men’s cycling sprint team broke the Olympic record in the semi-finals, before Great Britain did the same to win the gold medal in the final. While not all walked away with a medal, all of these athletes rose to the occasion and performed to their absolute best, a feat we should be very proud of.

But there are always two sides of sport. Despite many of our athletes coming into the games as medal favourites, some seem to have gotten overwhelmed by the occasion and come away with disappointing results. No one has had a worse competition than swimmer Lauren Boyle. Having won two silver medals at the world championships last year behind the freight-train of Katie Ledecky, it seemed that Boyle would easily be able to give NZ its first swimming medal since Danyon Loader won gold 20 years ago. Yet she didn’t even get out of the heats in either event, blaming illness as the reason for her poor showing. In a similar vein was the men’s sevens team, who suffered an embarrassing opening loss against Japan, before scraping through to the quarter-finals and bowing out against Fiji. 

There have been others that I feel have been overhyped by our media, particularly our cycling and rowing contingents. Obviously, we have a few very strong individuals in both sports but the feeling I got before the games was that we were going to sweep the medals in most events we were competing in. That hasn’t been the case. In fact, out of the eleven rowing events we entered in, we have walked away with just three medals, two of which were from those that won four years ago. So far in the cycling we have won just one medal from a possible fifteen in all completed competitions. Such statistics don’t show much of the so-called ‘dominance’ that I was expecting. Which begs the question—are either of the contingents that good, or did our national media overhype them and set unrealistic expectations?

The chance to equal or beat our record medal haul is still on, and it seems that the target set by High Performance Sport NZ was spot on. Unfortunately, for myself and probably others, even if we do walk away with a record amount of medals, I can’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed by our efforts. This is not a shot at the athletes, but at the media who seem to have put our team on the podium like it was a foregone conclusion. Despite this, we should all be extremely proud of our athletes that competed and showcased their talents to the world in Rio. Hopefully we can continue to improve in the years to come.

This article first appeared in Issue 20, 2016.
Posted 10:59am Sunday 21st August 2016 by Sean Nugent.