Andrew Alderson

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

Olympics: Timing's everything in race for the podium

New Zealand Olympic BMX rider Sarah Walker. Photo / Kenny Rodger
New Zealand Olympic BMX rider Sarah Walker. Photo / Kenny Rodger

The difficulty of earning Olympic medals has been highlighted recently as athlete sleeper cells emerge from hibernation to challenge in London, threatening NZ podium contenders. Andrew Alderson looks at several events where medals seemed 'probable' last year but have now slipped into the 'possible' category.

Previous world championship results can seem hollow when Olympic threats begin emerging. A new generation of prime Kiwi athleticism is set to discover if they have the hearts and heads to match the world's best under pressure. Here are several examples of those coming under scrutiny:

Men's double sculls

Nathan Cohen came within one place of a bronze medal in 2008 with Rob Waddell. With fellow two-time world champion Joseph Sullivan, the campaign has snagged. Last place in the B final at the Lucerne World Cup means serious work is required over the next two months to restore confidence. Still, in 2008, the Evers-Swindell twins missed one world cup event through illness and only won the B final in the other.

Adding to Cohen and Sullivan's woes is the form of defending Olympic champions David Crawshay and Scott Brennan. The Australians had two years off after Beijing, came fourth last year and took silver last weekend in Lucerne.

Women's single sculls

Crack Belarussian Ekaterina Karsten is still to race this season, world champion Mirka Knapkova is easing into top form, China's Xiuyan Zhang won the initial World Cups and Azerbaijani Nataliya Mustafayeva upstaged fifth-placed Emma Twigg in Lucerne - so there are plenty of challenges to Twigg's podium dream after she earned bronze at the last two world championships.

Women's pair

The latest recipe on Juliette Haigh and Rebecca Scown's website 1boat2girls.co.nz is for beef cannelloni. They'll need several hearty feeds of it to re-establish themselves in an event they have dominated for two seasons. At Lucerne they lost for just the second time in their two-year partnership, beaten by the British who are shaping as Olympic favourites on home water. The same crew beat them last year, also at Lucerne. The New Zealanders then pipped them by 0.08s at the world championships. The United States are a threat and, as defending Olympic champions, Romania are likely to produce a crack unit. Insiders say Haigh and Scown need to work on their speed in the first 500m.

Men's Omnium

Shane Archbold captured the public imagination with his omnium silver medal at last year's track cycling world championships. With his hairstyle a possible candidate for the hall of fame on ratemymullet.com - the 23-year-old is a dynamo in cycling's 'sextathlon' - a flying lap against the clock, points race, elimination, individual pursuit, scratch race and time trial. He dropped to fifth at this year's world championships, let down by 16th in the points race and seventh in the pursuit while other riders such as Australia's Glenn O'Shea stormed into contention. In the aftermath he assessed the situation in a state of disbelief: "I'm not winning, so something is going wrong."

Women's BMX

After fourth at Beijing, Sarah Walker has remained on the podium at big events (including a win at the 2009 world championships). However, last month's BMX world championships in Birmingham culminated in ninth overall. Walker at least had her riding mojo back just six weeks after dislocating her shoulder. She had only been back on her bike a week and had not practised on the 8m-high start ramp until Birmingham. The downside is world championship gold and silver medallists Magalie Pottier and Eva Ailloud of France are on the rise and Brit Shanaze Read has won three of the last four world championships.

Men's Javelin

Stuart Farquhar remains the answer to one of the more obscure pieces of track and field trivia: Which New Zealand athlete who isn't Val Adams led the world in 2012? The 30-year-old's 86.31m throw, set at a meet in Hiroshima on April 29, is still the mark to beat two months out from the Games. Farquhar has positioned himself as a threat but the key is performing in Olympic competition. He has to withstand fellow spear-chuckers like Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen and world champion Matthias de Zordo.

Women's Hockey

Back in July the Black Sticks earned bronze at the Champions Trophy in Amsterdam. It was the first medal for a New Zealand hockey team at a Champions Trophy. The team has equalled its highest world ranking (sixth) and have also produced consistent results against an international benchmark like Australia, including a goal difference victory in the three-match Oceania Cup. Germany and the Netherlands are still considered out in front but Britain and Argentina loom as potential spoilers to a first medal for the New Zealand women. The team's form slumped with sixth at the Champions Trophy in Argentina earlier this year.

Women's Triathlon

A flat course and a British runner who has tattooed a map of it in her mind are the biggest threats to Andrea Hewitt becoming New Zealand's first female triathlon medallist at an Olympics. Hewitt is one of the athletes to beat with consistent performances in the past year, carving one and a half minutes off her average 10km run over the last three years. However, several athletes may benefit more from the flat track in London, threatening her medal chances. Hewitt (ranked 1 in the world) and Brit Helen Jenkins (2) are the top two triathletes in the world but Jenkins has the advantage of almost living in the Hyde Park venue, committing every nuance to memory during years of training. She won the practice event there last year.

- Herald on Sunday

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