Olympics: Gold for pocket rocket

By Paul Lewis

Lisa Carrington won gold in the 200m women's canoe sprint. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Lisa Carrington won gold in the 200m women's canoe sprint. Photo / Brett Phibbs

It's an Olympic record - with 13 medals, this New Zealand team can claim the title of our most prolific Olympians ever.

Lisa Carrington's outstanding sprint canoeing first place last night meant the Kiwis equalled the medal haul of our previously most profitable Olympics, in Seoul 1988, but they arguably win the photo-finish by bringing home more gold (five) than was managed in Korea (three).

They are still behind the eight golds won in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics (they only managed 11 in all, including a silver and two bronze medals) and it is likely to be a few lifetimes before that gold rush is repeated or surpassed. The 1984 Olympics were boycotted by eastern bloc nations including the then USSR, East Germany and Cuba.

Carrington's medal added to the gold medal won by the women's 470 crew, Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie and their boat Muppet yesterday, plus the silver medal BMX exponent Sarah Walker won after her heartbreaking fourth in Beijing four years ago.

Carrington showed explosive pace into a headwind that played to her strengths.

The 53kg paddler, up to 20kg lighter than some of her rivals, was able to use her power-to-weight ratio to good effect.

"I can count on my endurance. You know the race is going to be a few seconds longer [with the headwind] so with that in mind I was confident."

In around 100 strokes she became the K1 200m discipline's inaugural gold medallist, pushing the favourite, Natasa Douchev-Janics of Hungary, to bronze.

The 23-year-old appeared to show little emotion at the finish, but she was buzzing at her medal presentation. "It's exciting winning it when you've spent so long preparing for that pressure." About 150 people, including former coaches, school friends and grandparents, watched her race on a big screen at the Ohope Surf Club. Her first nipper coach Bevan Porter said they would party into the night.

"It was like winning the rugby World Cup final, if not better because we all know her and she is just the nice girl who lives down the road."

He had been more calm than others. "She always knows how to finish well. We had confidence in her."

Whakatane surf club member Tony Lovett said Carrington's first water sport was paddle boarding but she switched to kayaking at the age of 15 when she realised boarding didn't have as big an international future.

"Her dad said: 'one day you will go to the Olympics but you'll have to go through kayaking'," Lovett said.

London could have been an even more heavily gold-plated exercise for New Zealand.

Shot put favourite Valerie Adams had to settle for silver and most people have accepted that she was beaten by a better athlete on the day. However, a Herald on Sunday investigation shows an administrative error which omitted her name from shot put starting list came back to bite her again, just before competition started.

Although officials assured Adams that the mistake had been rectified the day before, she arrived at the call room - the "holding pen" for athletes before they are allowed into the stadium for their event - to find her name once again missing from the list. The call room is where all the athletes cram in together before the event.

It is an intense, nerve-ridden atmosphere where canny athletes like the imposing Adams work on the psychological "warfare" exerted against her competition. Not this time.

Her rivals, including Belarussian gold medallist and arch-rival Nadzeya Ostapchuk, were instead treated to the sight of a panicked Adams having to persuade officials to make phone calls to ascertain that she was, indeed, on the starting list - even though she had not made it on to the lists on the clipboards of the officials in the call room.

The full story of what really happened to Adams is on p75, including the revelation that she was throwing further in training just before the Games than Ostapchuk's gold medal throw.

There are three main themes running through the New Zealand successes in London - our rowers; the remarkable Mark Todd; and the emergence of our female Olympians.

The rowers provided three of the four gold medals. Todd backed up his two golds and a bronze of 1984 and 1988 with a truly astonishing bronze with the equestrian team in the three-day event.

And women were involved in five of the 13 medals, compared to two in 1988 and none in 1984.

Meanwhile, up to a million Kiwis were glued to their screens during a golden hour of Olympic glory, figures show.

Ratings figures on Throng, the website for New Zealand's TV-watching community, show a massive 508,840 viewers tuned into Prime TV in the hour from 10.45pm on August 3.

The time covers a double gold medal haul by pair Eric Murray and Hamish Bond, and single sculler Mahe Drysdale.

Throng figures also showed that the pay TV broadcaster had an almost 30 per cent audience share on August 3, compared with free-to-air Prime's share of just under 25 per cent. That means the potential audience could have reached a million.

- Herald on Sunday

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