Extreme excitement and tension always accompany the opening of an Olympic Games. With the stage set in London, who could not be excited by the prospect of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, the stars of the Beijing Olympics, striving to retain their dominance? And what New Zealander will not be almost as tense as those wearing the silver fern when they compete under the most severe physical and mental pressure?

The glory of a medal, real and reflected, not to speak of $180 million of taxpayer funding in high-performance sport over the past four years, gives us all a stake in this meeting of the international elite.

So how will New Zealand perform? Understandably, there has been none of the supreme optimism that embarrassed sports officials a few years ago. Instead, there is a quiet confidence based on New Zealanders' performances at Olympic-related world championships last year. Encouragingly, there were 21 podium finishes, the country's best in a pre-Olympic year.

Equally, it is probably unprecedented for this country to be widely expected to claim two gold medals, through Valerie Adams in the shot put and rowers Hamish Bond and Eric Murray in the men's pair.


The recent revival of Adams' main rival, Nadzeya Ostapchuk, of Belarus, has dampened that expectation. But High Performance Sport New Zealand reckons the 184-strong team will win 10 medals, including three golds.

That total is one better than Beijing, but still some distance short of the record 13 claimed at Seoul in 1988.

If that is to be achieved, there will be a special onus on the rowing squad, which has performed outstandingly at successive world championships, and a cycling team that has been improving steadily.

But as performances last year indicated, there is plenty of potential throughout the squad. Andrea Hewitt is the world's top-ranked female triathlete, Lisa Carrington has burst on to the international canoeing scene, and cyclist Linda Villumsen, who formerly competed for Denmark, has a strong record. Then there are experienced Games competitors, such as Andrew Nicholson, who is the world No 2 in eventing, triathlete Bevan Docherty, 1500m runner Nick Willis and single sculler Mahe Drysdale. No gold medal would be so widely applauded as that won by Drysdale, given his wretched run with injury and illness.

Hopefully, London will also be notable for a New Zealander who appears out of the blue to claim a medal. In a world of frequent international competition, this has become a rarity. Yet Carrington achieved it when triumphing at last year's world championships. In so doing, she defied the sort of odds that will count against many of the New Zealanders.

This feature has led PricewaterhouseCoopers UK to predict that 10 medals is overly optimistic. In a study that considers the likes of population, average income levels and whether the country was part of the former Soviet Union, it concludes this country will win just seven.

Anything better than that and New Zealand will be defying accountancy logic. A recognition of this persuades most people these days to acknowledge that our expectations can be too high, and that we should avoid indulging in untoward soul-searching if they are not met. There should be no disappointment if the New Zealand squad fails to reach the Seoul mark. Only a deep appreciation of those whose success is all the sweeter because they disregarded the odds.