Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Rio 2016 Olympics: Female athletes set to shine

Olympic bosses believe this year's Games will be a defining moment for women's sport in New Zealand.

Kiwi women are tipped to lead the way in the New Zealand medal count and feature prominently in the coverage of Rio, with the likes of Lisa Carrington, Lydia Ko and Valerie Adams headlining the team for Rio.

"These Olympic Games may well be a landmark year for women's sport," said Kereyn Smith, the Secretary General of the New Zealand Olympic Committee.

"What we've seen since 2004 is a gradual increase in female participants and success in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games environment. And the way things are pointing this year, we're really excited about the potential and performance of our female athletes."

Over the past year, New Zealand athletes achieved placings at world championship level or its equivalent in 24 Olympic medal events. Of those results, 14 were achieved by women.

While world championship placings are by no means guaranteed to convert to Olympic medals, it is a strong indicator of the team's potential for success.

Carrington is hoping to become the first New Zealand woman to claim two gold medals at the same Games as she chases the 200m/500m double in the K1; Adams has her sights on becoming the first female triple gold medallist; Eliza McCartney could net the country's first Olympic medal in the pole vault and the 470 crew of Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie are seeking to scoop back-to-back golds.

The Olympic athletes hope they can inspire young girls.

"For me growing up, seeing the likes of Sarah Ulmer and Valerie Adams compete was inspirational," said New Zealand sevens star Tyla Nathan-Wong. "Just seeing those fantastic female role models win gold encouraged me to really pursue sport, so hopefully I can do the same thing and set a dream alive in someone that is looking up to us."

Fresh focus on women's sports

NZME - publisher of the Herald - kickstarts its Olympic Games coverage today with the launch of She's Got Game, a fortnightly on-demand video show highlighting the incredible accomplishments of New Zealand's female athletes.

The show takes its name from women at the top of their sporting field. It will challenge the misconception that women don't care about sport by presenting sporting news in a way all genders can engage with.

Co-host Rikki Swannell says: "With New Zealand's female athletes poised to dominate New Zealand's medal count in Rio, we want to ensure they get the coverage they deserve and that their profiles are raised in the lead-up to the Games. The Olympics will be the springboard for more female-focused sports coverage across NZME."

Swannell, who will host the show with New Zealand Herald chief sports reporter Dana Johannsen, says sporting news has long been dominated by male-focused coverage, and NZME is determined to become the leading voice in a space traditionally ignored.
She's Got Game will showcase interviews with Olympic athletes, cover the news and analyse the issues.

New Zealand Olympic Committee chief executive Kereyn Smith is thrilled to see a focus on women's sporting endeavours and achievements.

"These athletes are the elite in their sport. They are phenomenal sportspeople who are incredible to watch, in addition to being inspirational. We have battled the disparity in coverage for women in sport for such a long time, so it's truly great to see NZME committed to highlighting these amazing athletes."

She's Got Game is just one of the initiatives NZME is rolling out in the lead-up to the Olympics: A 100-day countdown will appear on multiple NZME sites, accompanied by daily articles, analysis by NZME's data journalism department, profiles, special video presentations, exclusive behind-the-scenes footage and, of course, comprehensive coverage of the games themselves.

According to Nielsen, NZME had the largest online audience for Rugby World Cup news in 2015 and more than three million people viewed NZME video content on Facebook.

Each episode of She's Got Game will be about 10 minutes long and available through the Herald's dedicated Olympic news section on nzherald.co.nz The first episode will be available from 10am today.

5 To watch in Rio

1 Lisa Carrington

New Zealand kayaker Lisa Carrington. Photo / Brett Phibbs
New Zealand kayaker Lisa Carrington. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The break-out star from the London Olympics, Carrington is chasing a canoe sprint double in Rio. The 26-year-old is attempting to defend her Olympic title in the K1 200m, and will this year add the K1 500m to her programme. If she is successful, Carrington will become the first New Zealand woman to win a gold medal double at the same Olympics.

2 Lydia Ko

With women's golf set to be included in the Olympic programme for the first time this year, Ko could make history in Rio as the first Olympic champion in her sport. The world No1 will be of the few genuine global superstars in the New Zealand team.

3 Valerie Adams

Already considered among New Zealand's greatest Olympians, Adams' status will be elevated even further if she can overcome her injury setbacks to stand atop the dais in Rio. The shot-put queen is seeking to become the first Kiwi woman to claim three Olympic golds.

4 Eliza McCartney

Pole vault star McCartney catapulted herself into Olympic medal contention only recently following a remarkable record spree over summer. The 19-year-old has beaten her own national record on several occasions already this year, with her record of 4.80m putting her among the world's elite. After finishing fifth at the world indoor champs in Portland last month, the Olympic podium is in McCartney's sights.

5 Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie

One of the surprise packages in London, Aleh and Powrie are seeking to become the first New Zealand sailors to secure back-to-back Olympic golds. The 470 crew, collectively known as Team Jolly, have again flown under the radar in the lead-up to Rio but are expected to be in the medal mix.

- NZ Herald

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