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Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Our girls' games for Olympic glory

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back and pretend
Because I've heard it all before
And I've been down there on the floor
No one's ever gonna keep me down again

Helen Reddy, from the single "I am woman", 1972

Helen Reddy's American billboard No. 1 single might well serve as an anthem for women in the New Zealand Olympic team as they contemplate what, in less than a year, should be their most successful Games.

At this stage the Kiwi women have up to a dozen realistic medal chances in London. Securing anywhere near that figure is unlikely but, like Reddy's lyrics, the numbers are too big to ignore. The largely male-dominated Olympic movement often prevented a number of female equivalent sports.

For example, track and field did not feature until 1928, rowing 1976, cycling and the marathon 1984. That is one reason women represent just 17 per cent of New Zealand's medals (15 out of 90). That has changed to 28 per cent (five out of 18) since the turn of the century including four of New Zealand's seven golds, thanks to the Evers-Swindell twins (twice), Sarah Ulmer and Valerie Adams.

Until 2004 New Zealand only had two - long jumper Yvette Corlett (nee Williams) and board sailor Barbara Kendall.

At London Kiwi women could haul in half the country's medals for the first time. Such increased success can be put down to several factors aside from the obvious will of uncompromising individuals.

There is consistent, achievement-based funding from Sparc, better access to sponsorship and publicity, more sports available and greater independence to aspire to sporting goals before families, tertiary education or the workforce intervene.

It is some distance from the scenes of the past which author Margot Butcher describes in her 2010 book Golden Girls on New Zealand's six previous Olympic gold medallists.

Butcher writes about modern Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin believing the Games should be an exclusively male preserve and how he once described women's bobsledding as "the most inaesthetic sight human eyes could contemplate".

Perhaps more surprising, as Butcher notes, is 1952-1972 IOC president Avery Brundage referring to women's track events as having a charm that "sinks to less than zero". Even as late as 1992 when Kendall took gold there were just 98 events for women out of 269 overall (36 per cent). In 2008 there were 137 events out of 302 (45 per cent).

Val Adams - shot put
Visions of the black-singleted Adams crushing her opposition in Beijing and running across the track to hug former coach Kirsten Hellier in the stand will be vivid for many. It looks set to come down to a two-thrower battle for gold and silver in London with Belarussian rival Nadzeya Ostapchuk.

Adams has dealt with a marriage breakdown and coaching difficulties over the last 18 months and was beaten regularly by her rival last year. There is not much between the two at their peak. However, when it counts, Adams comes up with big throws, a reason why she has been world outdoor champion since 2007.

New Zealand women - team pursuit
Track cycling's split into five events for men and women rather than the previous 7- 3 combination has taken a possible 3000m individual pursuit medal away from New Zealand (through Alison Shanks) but added a podium chance with the introduction of the women's pursuit.

Kaytee Boyd, Lauren Ellis, Jaime Nielsen and Shanks will contest spots on the three-woman team. New Zealand has had success in the event since 2009 with a silver and two bronze medals at world championships. They were ranked best in the world on accrued points at the end of last season in March but world champions Britain, the United States and Australia shape as tough rivals.

Lisa Carrington - K1 200m kayaking
Carrington won the third world cup race of the year in Duisburg, Germany in the Olympic length K1 200m at the end of May.

None of last year's top three world championship finishers competed, but she beat the women who came fourth and fifth, meaning she is a genuine contender. A better gauge will be the world championships in the sport's heartland of Szeged, Hungary, from August 18-21, where any international kayaking event is the equivalent of an All Blacks' test back here.

Kim Smith - marathon
Living in Providence, Rhode Island, Smith does not get the accolades she deserves as one of New Zealand's finest distance runners. The 29-year-old stepped up to the marathon following eighth in the 10,000m at the 2009 world championships. She set the national record of 2h 25m 21s with eighth in London last year.

The next benchmark will be her second New York marathon on November 6 after coming fifth in 2010. Smith showed tenacity and ambition at the Boston marathon in April when she took a 50-second lead at halfway, only to suffer a lower right leg injury and quit with 10km to go.

Jo Aleh and Olivia (Polly) Powrie - women's 470 sailing
The duo earned silver at last year's world championships and won last month's Sail for Gold regatta on the Olympic course at Weymouth. They race the Olympic test event in the second week of August.

As a nine-year-old Aleh was converted to sailing after being inspired by the 1995 America's Cup win while Powrie comes from a strong sailing family. After forming in late 2008 with London on their minds, Team Jolly (Jo + Polly) shape as strong contenders to take New Zealand's first sailing gold medal in a boat (rather than on a board) since 1984. New Zealand women - team pursuit

Andrea Hewitt - triathlon
Hewitt, third in the world last year and eighth at Beijing, will be one to watch next weekend racing the London world championship series event. The race doubles as a New Zealand Olympic qualifier and the Games' test event.

Hewitt showed her strength a fortnight ago with fourth place behind the Australian Emmas - Moffatt, Jackson and Snowsill in Hamburg. She is ranked third in the world and has only been out of the top four once in four world championship series races this season.

Linda Villumsen - road racing time trial
Ex-Dane, now-Kiwi Linda Villumsen shapes as a strong candidate in the 29km road time trial starting and finishing at Hampton Court Palace. The 26-year old has placed third at the past two world champ. A gauge of her Olympic chances will be if she repeats the dose in Copenhagen at the end of September.

With limited numbers New Zealand cannot hope for the same success in the road race.

Caroline Powell - equestrian
Powell's achievements are sometimes overshadowed by those of likely Olympic teammates Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson but she is a fine rider in her own right, winning the Burghley horse trials last September to prove it.

She was the fourth New Zealander after Todd, Nicholson and Blyth Tait to do so. Powell was also part of the bronze medal-winning Kiwi team at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky last year.

She is ranked 13th in the world.

Juliette Haigh and Rebecca Scown - women's pair rowing
Until this month Haigh and Scown had experienced a blemish-free campaign as the world's best since the start of last season. However, they were pushed into second by Britain's Heather Stanning and Helen Glover at the world cup in Lucerne, which will have been cause for alarm as they seek a repeat world championship in Slovenia next month.

Any rower knows it is one thing to win world championships in the two years after the Olympics; then major players often re-emerge. Haigh knows that too well with sixth at Athens and fifth in Beijing with Nicky Coles. Expect that to change with her third crack.

Emma Twigg - single sculls rowing
Twigg's rise has been steady from rowing in a struggling women's eight in 2006 to being one of the world's top single scullers under guru Dick Tonks. Twigg has had ups and downs. There was the high of sixth in her first world championship final in 2007 to the low of third in the B final at the Beijing Olympics. She narrowly missed a medal with fourth in the world the following year.

Since then it has been a steady ascent. She came third at the Lake Karapiro world championships and backed it up with a breakthrough world cup win at Lucerne this month against a field including 2010 world champion Frida Svensson of Sweden and double Olympic and six-time world champion Ekaterina Karstenof Belarus.

Sarah Walker
BMX can crush Olympic dreams fast when the bikes explode from the start. So much of the race can be determined by who makes it to the first corner in one piece. One false move can destroy four years' hard work. Walker knows how much it can disappoint with fourth in Beijing. But BikeNZ is wise to place some standing on her efforts. She is ranked second in the world and will have found out early this morning (New Zealand time) in Copenhagen if she has regained the elite world championship after winning in 2009 and slipping to second last year.

New Zealand women - hockey
The Black Sticks have been a revelation of late, earning a first Champions Trophy medal - a bronze - this month. They beat Australia 3-2 in pool play and drew 0- 0 with the Netherlands, something no other team could do against the eventual champions. It backed up from Commonwealth Games silver in Delhi where they lost to Australia on penalties.

The New Zealand women have moved from 12th (and last) at the Beijing Olympics to medal contenders at London under new coach and former Australian international Mark Hager. Their world ranking has also moved up a place this month to sixth.

- Herald on Sunday

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