Golden winners in the battle of the sexes

By Dylan Cleaver

From carrying the flag to grabbing the medals, women led the way in Delhi. Photo / Getty Images
From carrying the flag to grabbing the medals, women led the way in Delhi. Photo / Getty Images

In the battle of the sexes, a comprehensive winner has been declared.

Just as when Billie Jean King wiped the floor with Bobby Riggs in 1973, the women have cleaned out the men as far as providing the New Zealand highlights at these Games.

Look at the gold medals. Alison Shanks came first, followed closely by Valerie Adams, then we had to wait an eternity before the sevens team got the men off their duck.

Just a day later Joelle King and Jaclyn Hawkes chalked up another one, before the men's fullbore pair of Mike Collings and John Snowden won gold on the penultimate day of competition.

The Silver Ferns closed the curtain on the Games with a heart-stopping performance. But it's not so much the medal count but the fact that all New Zealand's big moments in Delhi seemed to involve women.

If Nikki Hamblin had won silver in the 1500m and pulled out of the 800m because of exhaustion, that would have been enough to make hers one of the most memorable performances of the Games.

To then come from so far back - a la Kiwi in the Melbourne Cup in 1983, says coach Chris Pilone - to steal silver in the half-mile has, with all due respect to the gold medal winners, been our best performance here.

There will be some who view the celebration of two silvers as an acceptance of losing, but everything must be put in context: Hamblin is inexperienced at major championships, while her vanquisher Nancy Langat has been running in world championships since 1996 and has Olympic, world and Commonwealth titles to her name. The fact that 22-year-old Hamblin put the frighteners up her in both races bodes well for bigger meets to come.

If Hamblin's efforts were the best in terms of pure performance, the women's hockey team provided the most emotional moment.

You used to be able to bet your mortgage on New Zealand collapsing like a house of cards when the pressure came on in big tournaments.

This team is different. Under Australian Mark Hager they have not only upped the ante in terms of their game plan, they're a hell of a lot tougher.

You could argue that when the pressure burned hottest, during the ill-fated penalty strokes shootout for gold, they melted, but even the men who succeeded the following day will tell you it's little more than a lottery.

A better indication of their ability to handle pressure was the fact that down by a goal with less than a minute on the clock, they never dropped their bundle. In extra time they were finishing stronger than Australia without getting that decisive stroke of luck. Women's hockey has tested Sparc's patience - two years ago their funding was slashed dramatically after the debacle in Beijing - but the performance in Delhi of this young, vibrant team should ensure a big cheque when the next round of contestable funding is announced.

The women also provided the most dominating performances. You could toss a coin between Adams and Shanks for this one. Adams was a Gulliver among Lilliputians, while Shanks never gave arch-rival Wendy Houvenaghel a sniff in the individual pursuit final.

So best performance, most emotionally taxing, most dominant, the women had scooped the lot, before the Silver Ferns put on their dramatic matinee. When Australia came back from a seven-goal deficit you almost felt it in your bones that this was going to end badly.

But Maria Tutaia found an unmissable shooting stroke, New Zealand-born Catherine Cox lost hers and in extraordinary circumstances the women brought home another gold.

- NZ Herald

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