Olympics: Gold dreams - our most likely winners

By David Leggat, Dylan Cleaver

New Zealand won’t win eight golds in London, but it doesn’t stop anybody dreaming of stepping on top of the dais. Dylan Cleaver and David Leggat nominate athletes or pairings whose dreams are closer to reality than most.

Hamish Bond and Eric Murray are hoping for Olympic glory. Photo / Christine Cornege
Hamish Bond and Eric Murray are hoping for Olympic glory. Photo / Christine Cornege

Valerie Adams, shot put:
Next to coxless pair Hamish Bond and Eric Murray - perhaps even ahead of them - Valerie Adams is the shortest-priced fancy for a New Zealand gold.

She won the shot put crown in Beijing four years ago and has increasingly become a woman alone - almost - in her discipline.

She has won the past three world championship crowns, and collected the world indoor title in Istanbul in March.

Until last month, she has largely seen off the challenge of Belarusian Nadzeya Ostapchuk.

Recent events, however, mean that now comes with a rider.

Ostapchuk's best throw this year, 21.39m, which she's done twice, is superior to Adams' best for the year of 21.03m, in Rome at the end of May. Three times Ostapchuk bettered Adams' best last month with throws over 21m at the Belarus national championships.

Not only that, but Ostapchuk's two biggest throws also beat Adams' career best of 21.24m.

Of New Zealand female athletes, only rowing twins Georgina Earl and Caroline Meyer (nee Evers-Swindell) have won two Olympic golds. History beckons for the 27-year-old Adams, but this is no time to be counting chickens.

Eric Murray-Hamish Bond, rowing:
Since leaving the 2007 world champion coxless four boat to team up in the coxless pair in 2009, the blond bombers have won every race they've contested. At the top of that tree means three successive world titles, along with six World Cup crowns.

They have seen off their only serious rivals, Britons Andrew Triggs Hodge and Pete Reed, who, having lost 14 straight races to the Kiwis, chucked in the towel and changed boats for London.

Murray and Bond won their two World Cup finals in Lucerne and Munich with ease. They have a strong psychological edge over their rivals, have not lost sight of the objective, even after the Brits walked away, and will step into their boat at Eton Dorney as the warmest of favourites.

Andrea Hewitt, triathlon:
Ultra-consistent, Hewitt, 30, always gives herself a chance.The Olympic triathlon is likely to come down to a drag race. That will not suit our men, but should not affect Hewitt as badly.

This is a good field, however. The fact that defending champion Emma Snowsill cannot make the Australian team is ample evidence of that. Great Briton Helen Jenkins is a real threat, as is Australia's other Emma, Moffatt. Look out for Switzerland's Nicola Spirig, too.

Hewitt is getting better with age. She finished second in the last ITU world championship series, and won three races in a row, culminating in the Auckland round of the world cup in November.

Mahe Drysdale, rowing:
The sight of a distressed Mahe Drysdale being helped from his single scull at the end of the Beijing final four years ago remains one of the more vivid from those Games. He had won three of his five world titles by then, but - wracked by illness in the worst possible week of the four-year cycle - had to settle for a gutsy bronze.

Four years on and Drysdale is back in the game and seems poised for a two-way joust for gold with powerful Czech Republic sculler Ondrej Synek.

The sight of the pair duelling down the last 1000m of their World Cup final in Lucerne in May, separated at the line by just .52s gave a mouth-watering preview of what the final may hold at Eton.

Drysdale missed the subsequent Munich regatta with a minor shoulder injury but with two-time Olympic champion Olaf Tufte seemingly way off the pace this year, it looks a Drysdale-Synek quinella. But in what order? Victory for the tall Aucklander would bring the house down after Beijing.

Lisa Carrington, canoe sprint:
When Lisa Carrington won the K1 200m world title in Szeged, Hungary last year, it stunned the paddling world.

In her first serious event this year, the World Cup in Duisberg, Germany at the end of May, she finished second by .096s behind three-time Olympic champion Natasa Douchev-Janics of Hungary. This is a sport which has only one tactic, head down, flat out along the short stretch.

The young Bay of Plenty paddler has pace and power, but she has lost the element of surprise which helped last year.

In one respect, her second placing at the World Cup was a good sign. Certainly her coach, Gordon Walker thought so, believing it showed she was right on the pace for London.

Linda Villumsen, cycling:
The Danish-born cyclist has a happy knack of scooping up minor medals at major meets. Coming off some great form this European summer, there is reason to believe the 27-year-old who switched her allegiance to New Zealand in 2010, can go a step or two better.

Villumsen placed fifth at the Beijing Olympics, riding for Denmark. As a rule, road racers and time triallists get better the more kilometres they get in their legs. Villumsen could challenge for gold here and in Rio in four years' time. After a series of health setbacks earlier in the year, which saw her miss the nationals in January, she has professed herself fit and strong ahead of London.

Andrew Nicholson, eventing:
In a sense he's been a bridesmaid while Mark Todd and Blyth Tait have won Olympic gold, but might this be Andrew Nicholson's Games? These are the seventh the Wiltshire-based horseman has attended - a New Zealand record he shares with Todd - and he believes he's got the best horse he's had, Nereo, under him, health and fitness permitting.

Nicholson has carved out an outstanding eventing career and is widely regarded among the best in the business. New Zealand has a strong chance in the teams event, where a quintet of Todd, Nicholson, Caroline Powell, Jonathan Paget and Clarke Johnstone are shaping as being as good as any at the Games.

Twenty years ago Nicholson's nightmare ride aboard Spinning Rhombus at Barcelona cost New Zealand what seemed an unmissable gold. This could be his Games, and how about that for a spot of belated redemption?

Jo Aleh/Olivia Powrie, sailing:
It is 28 years since New Zealand won a sailing gold other than riding a board.

In a Games year, all that matters is the performance at that event, and with that criteria in mind, consider the case of 470 women Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie.

Last year, they won the Sail for Gold regatta on the Olympic course at Weymouth three hours southwest of London.

They repeated that feat last month and, armed with a wealth of knowledge of that stretch of water, shape as New Zealand's best hopes of breaking the 28-year drought.

Sailing requires a degree of luck. New Zealanders generally like a bit more blow in their breeze; Europeans as a rule fancy things a shade lighter. What will the Games regatta serve up?

You would imagine Aleh and Powrie - who won the 420 world title together in 2007 and were fourth at this year's worlds in Barcelona after a poor deciding medal race - have got to know the lie of the land in their sleep. But fickle is a word you hear crop up in sailing conversations. Setting aside boardsailor Barbara Kendall's feat at Barcelona in 1992, Aleh and Powrie look solid chances to become New Zealand's first Olympic female sailing champions.

. . and 6 potential eyebrow-raisers

Louise Ayling/Julia Edward, rowing:
This lightweight double sculling combination came together only this year, but they've hit the water with a relish.

In their first competitive row, the World Cup regatta in Lucerne at the end of May, they finished second to China, but went one better at Munich last month, leading from start to finish in a highly impressive performance.

Ayling raced the lightweight single to silver at the world championships on Lake Karapiro in 2010, while Edward teamed with Lucy Strack to finish sixth in their final. Last year, Strack and Ayling won the B final, but now the tinkering is over and Ayling and Edward are showing all the signs of being seriously competitive.

Shane van Velthooven, cycling:
To the uninitiated, the keirin looks like a place for the fearless punter, the winner determined by a combination of speed, pluck and good fortune. To the initiated, the keirin looks like a place for the fearless punter, the winner determined by a combination of speed, pluck and good fortune. Van Velthooven has generous dollops of the first two elements of success, whether he gets enough of the third remains to be seen. He got his wheel across the line third at the recent world champs, but was relegated to the back of the field by evil commissaires.

Mark Todd, eventing:
Eyebrow raiser? Only in this sense: Todd will be 56 when he trots out at Greenwich. His two Olympic golds came 28 and 24 years ago, he took the fat end of a decade out of the sport, only to return and, last year, stun the eventing world by winning a fourth Badminton title.

He will be a hugely influential figure in New Zealand's strong team medal prospects, but you'd write him off as an individual contender at your peril. There is, after all, a reason he was named Eventing Rider of the 20th Century by the International Equestrian Federation.

Women's hockey:
New Zealand's one Olympic hockey medal was a doozy - men's gold in Montreal in 1976, one of New Zealand's red-letter Olympic days.

There won't be any gold in London, but the women's Black Sticks are a decent chance to force their way on to the podium.

Their two toughest contests are against world Nos 2 and 3, Argentina and Germany, against whom they have been competitive this year. They start with the Aussies, who at No 7 are ranked one place lower than New Zealand. They must beat the United States and South Africa, and should do, but they'll need to be on their game.

Coach Mark Hager is working a treat with his players, who have a good mix of experience - Emily Naylor (194 caps) and Kayla Sharland (166) head a group of five players with more than 100 internationals, while midfielders Stacey Michelson (99) and Anita Punt (93) are closing in on that mark - and youth. Players such as Michelson, Punt, sisters Sam and Charlotte Harrison, Gemma Flynn and Katie Glynn are 23 or younger. Silver medallists at the Commonwealth Games two years ago, they can give the Olympic tournament a real shake.

Kimberley Smith, marathon:
It's a long way, is the marathon. A lot can happen in those 42km as Smith has discovered in her relatively short career over the longest Olympic distance. Her personal best of 2h 25m 21s will probably not be enough to win a medal in London, but there is a belief that the world No 18-ranked marathoner has a quicker time in her.

Lauren Boyle, swimming:
New Zealand aren't exactly expected to storm the podium at the Aquatic Centre. After all in 100 years, the country has won just two gold medals, one silver and three bronze.

But the swimmer who perhaps has the best chance of making a splash in London is freestyler Lauren Boyle. Preparing for her second Olympics, New Zealand's Swimmer of the Year will contest the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle along with the 4 x 200m freestyle relay. There were encouraging signs at last year's world championships in Shanghai, when she placed sixth in the 400m, and eighth over 800m, her best results on the highest stage, and in her premier events.

- NZ Herald

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