Looking ahead to the London Olympics

New Zealand's Valerie Vili stands proud after winning Gold in the Womens Shot Put. Photo / NZPA
New Zealand's Valerie Vili stands proud after winning Gold in the Womens Shot Put. Photo / NZPA

The London Olympics are only eight months away. Michael Brown of APNZ looks at where our best medal chances lie.

Sparc don't do medal predictions any more - they were scared off after the poor return from the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006.

But privately they are optimistic of a good return from next year's Olympic Games.

The best the national funding body have done is announce they expect double figures from the 200-strong team bound for London, which would be an improvement on the nine collected in Beijing.

New Zealand finished 25th overall on the medal tally in 2008 but fifth on per capita population with three golds, two silvers and four bronzes.

This country has traditionally done well in sports that require athletes to sit down and that won't change in 2012. Rowing, cycling, equestrian, sailing and kayaking represent New Zealand's best hopes as well as the women's shot put and triathlon.

Valerie Adams will be back to defend her shot put gold after an excellent 2011. She had a poor year by her standards in 2010 when she changed coach twice and messed around with her technique.

This year she moved to a tiny Swiss village to be closer to her new coach Jean-Pierre Egger and threw an impressive 21.24m en route to winning her third world title. Not only was it a personal best but it was also a world championship record-equalling throw and 1.19m further than her nearest rival, Nadzeya Astapchuk of Belarus.

She will be overwhelming favourite to win gold in London and it's something that sits comfortably with the 27-year-old.

Hamish Bond and Eric Murray will also have to live with that tag. The men's rowing pair are unbeaten since jumping in the boat together in 2009.

That includes 14-straight defeats of British pair Pete Reed and Andrew Triggs-Hodge and, such is the dominance of Bond and Murray, British rowing bosses are considering raising the white flag and putting Reed and Triggs-Hodge into the four.

Mahe Drysdale (single scull), Rebecca Scown and Juliette Haigh (women's pair), Storm Uru and Peter Taylor (lightweight double) and Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan (double scull) are also expected to push for medals as New Zealand's rowers continue their incredible record of success.

Their programme is the envy of many much larger and wealthier nations but what they really want is Olympic success.

Drysdale, for instance, has won five world titles but has yet to collect Olympic gold, although his 2008 campaign was affected by illness which only became clear when he collapsed soon after collecting bronze.

He's no stranger to pushing through the pain and won this year's world championships despite a troubling and painful back injury that restricted his time training on the water. Instead, he took to the bike to keep up his fitness.

It is on two wheels where New Zealand's next-best medal hopes lie. BikeNZ have put together a world-class programme that will see New Zealand's cyclists push for medals in as many as six disciplines on the track as well as Sarah Walker and Marc Willers on the BMX.

A number of endurance events have been dropped from the Olympic programme in favour of more medals for the sprinters. Normally this would be an issue, especially as Jesse Sergent and Alison Shanks are among the world's best in the men's and women's individual pursuit, but a handful of young Kiwi sprinters have the potential to finish on the podium in London.

What makes this remarkable is the fact all four are under 23 and the sprint programme was conceived only two years ago.

London might come too soon for Sam Webster, Ethan Mitchell, Simon van Velthooven and Eddie Dawkins but they have made such tremendous progress in such a short time nothing would surprise as they take on the likes of France, Great Britain, Russia and Australia in the team's sprint, kilo time trial and keiran.

The men's team's pursuiters have not really fired on the biggest stages but there are higher hopes for the women's team's pursuit. It would be a major surprise if the trio led by Shanks didn't win a medal in the new Olympic discipline and they have the potential to stand on the top step of the podium.

A handful of sailors could do that as well. But they could very easily finish down the fleet.

They finished with three medals from the recent sailing world championships in Perth, where Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (49er) won silver and Andrew Murdoch (Laser) and Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie (women's 470) claimed bronze.

Whoever wins selection between defending Olympic champion Tom Ashley and JP Tobin in the men's RS:X will also be contenders, as will Sara Winther in the women's Laser radial.

The equestrian team will hardly be bankers, given the variables in the sport, but they will head to London with a powerful and experienced team.

At the forefront, of course, will be two-time Olympic champion Mark Todd, who won his fourth Badminton title in 2011 (31 years after his first and 15 years since his last). The team also performed well at this year's World Equestrian Festival in Germany, where they collected silver behind Great Britain.

The flat nature of the triathlon course in London won't suit the Kiwis but Andrea Hewitt is a genuine chance given she's ranked second in the world and two-time Olympic medallist Bevan Docherty can't be totally discounted even though he's had a difficult couple of years.

One who has sprung into contention is kayaker Lisa Carrington, who won this year's world title in the K1 200m, which is new to the Olympic programme. She won the world championships by nearly half a second, a lot in a race over in less than 40 seconds.

Carrington's title was a surprise but rarely in these days of high performance testing and training does someone or some team cause a major upset on the way to Olympic gold. It's why Sparc are so calculated when spending their money. They track performance and know what is realistic.

There was considerable consternation when they maintained good levels of funding for both the men's and women's Black Sticks hockey teams but both have made good progress over the past 18 months and are outside chances of winning medals in London.

If predictions are right, New Zealand could come close to winning their 100th Olympic medal in London (87 have been won to date).

That might not sound like a big deal to the Chinese, who won 100 medals in Beijing alone, but would represent one of New Zealand's best Olympic returns ever.

Medal chances:

Valerie Adams (athletics, women's shot put)

Nick Willis (athletics, men's 1500m)

Hamish Bond and Eric Murray (rowing, men's pair)

Mahe Drysdale (rowing, men's single scull)

Rebecca Scown and Juliette Haigh (rowing, women's pair)

Storm Uru and Peter Taylor (rowing, men's lightweight double sculls)

Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan (rowing, men's double sculls)

Men's team's pursuit (track cycling)

Women's team's pursuit (track cycling)

Men's team's sprint (track cycling)

Simon van Velthooven or Eddie Dawkins (track cycling, keiran)

Simon van Velthooven or Eddie Dawkins (track cycling, men's kilo time trial)

Shane Archbold (track cycling, men's omnium)

Sarah Walker (women's BMX cycling)

Marc Willers (men's BMX cycling)

Lisa Carrington (kayaking, women's K1 200m)

Andrea Hewitt (women's triathlon)

Three-day event (equestrian, teams)

Mark Todd (equestrian)

Andrew Murdoch (sailing, Laser)

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (sailing, 49er)

Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie (sailing, women's 470)

Tom Ashley or JP Tobin (sailing, men's RS:X)

- APNZ

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