Andrew Alderson

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

Olympics: New Zealand golden girls

Erakovic shoulders all New Zealand's tennis hopes at present. Photo / NZ Herald
Erakovic shoulders all New Zealand's tennis hopes at present. Photo / NZ Herald

New Zealand's elite Olympic athletes are embarking on a new campaign. For most, it is the beginning of a three-and-a-half-year slog which will culminate in an air ticket to Rio de Janeiro. Six women, however, carry more of a burden than others.

For most of New Zealand's rowers, cyclists and sailors, the talent pool depth balances the responsibilities across a number of medal-capable athletes.

The country has its best chance of success in those sports, reflected in their 'Tier 1' status in the government Olympic and Paralympic budget. $45.2 million of the more than $99 million allocated will go into rowing, cycling and sailing.

Six other Olympic sports do not have the same breadth of talent. The 'poster girls' for each of these sports take on a disproportionate amount of national responsibility.

1) Lauren Boyle, swimming - Taxpayer investment: 2013 only, $1.4 million

Perhaps no individual faces more pressure to sustain their sport's funding than Boyle. She competes at the national championships starting today in Auckland. The event doubles as a trial for the world championships in Barcelona during July and August. Swimming was dumped as a targeted Olympic sport on the back of 16 years without a medal. Boyle redeemed the sport's reputation with gold in the 800m freestyle and bronze in the 400m freestyle at the 25m short-course world championships in Turkey during December. The 25-year-old also led the London campaign, with the country's only two finals appearances; she finished fourth in the 800m and eighth in the 400m freestyle.

2) Lisa Carrington, kayaking - Taxpayer investment: 2013-16, $4.8 million

Carrington's Olympic gold in the K1 200m has almost singlehandedly guaranteed the sport its targeted investment. They received just $3.4m in the previous Olympic cycle annual funding. Carrington's K2 500m partner Erin Taylor (25) is taking a year out of the sport and London K2 1000m paddler Darryl Fitzgerald (22) is in the fledgling stages of his K1 development, meaning the sport's future remains in the grip of Carrington's paddle. A move to three regional bases in Auckland, Gisborne and Christchurch has been mooted with the employment of permanent coaches with autonomy over their own athletes. This change will be monitored to see whether it proves a catalyst to returning more on investment than just another Carrington gong.

3) Val Adams, track and field - Taxpayer investment: 2013-16, $7.6 million

Adams - or "Val" as many now acknowledge her - is fast-moving into first name recognition territory like "Jonah" in New Zealand sport. Her cameo at the recent Pacific Showcase Market at The Cloud in Auckland was evidence. Crowd control was required to monitor the flow to watch her throw. The double Olympic champion may become New Zealand's most iconic track and field athlete, having already entered the rarefied air occupied by Jack Lovelock, Yvette Williams, Murray Halberg, Peter Snell and John Walker. Nick Willis has been an exemplary ambassador for the sport but Adams remains the frontperson. Her costs are met, so she can train under coach Jean-Pierre Egger for much of the year in Switzerland but her skill in the throwing circle is a massive fillip which enables Athletics New Zealand to stay in rude health.

4) Lydia Ko, golf - Taxpayer investment: 2013-14, $230,000

At 15, Ko is the country's best ranked women's golfer and the new face of multiculturalism in New Zealand sport after emigrating from South Korea in 2003. She has a world ranking of 25 but has not turned professional. This time last year, she was ranked 159. She has since become the youngest woman to win a Ladies Professional Golf Association title when she took out the Canadian Open in August. Her promising future prompted HPSNZ to name-drop her in their official investment document, with golf joining the Olympics in 2016. Yet Ko has refused to let golf consume her life. She found time to pass her year 11 exams last year and has sacrificed more than $500,000 in professional tournament prize money by remaining amateur.

5) Andrea Hewitt, triathlon - Taxpayer investment: 2013-16, $5.6 million

$6.16 million of taxpayer investment delivered no medals at London, with Hewitt's sixth the best result. Triathlon has survived as a targeted Olympic sport, thanks in part to an eight-year plan which includes moving to a new Cambridge base. Hewitt, New Zealand's top-ranked athlete at No 3 in the world, will be 34 at Rio but remains the face of the sport, such is the lack of depth. In fact, none of New Zealand's top three women are under 30. There is a void on the men's side, too, although 24-year-old Ryan Sissons might progress. Quicker runs on flatter courses, a growth in professional participation numbers (especially in Europe) since the sport's Sydney Olympic debut and the success of younger athletes means it is tougher to excel.

6) Marina Erakovic, tennis - Taxpayer investment: 2013, $0

Tennis does not make the cut on the Olympic funding list - and nor should it when there is daylight between Erakovic's success as the best women's player and all other achievements with a racquet. However, Erakovic shoulders all New Zealand's tennis hopes at present. Ranked 63rd in the world, she picked up her first WTA singles title last month in Memphis at the US national indoor championships. It was the first title at the top level from a New Zealand woman since Belinda's Cordwell's win in Singapore in 1989.

- Herald on Sunday

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