Olympics: Which Kiwis will win gold?

By David Leggat

The Rio Games are coming up fast. So who among the New Zealand contenders is in the frame to stand on the winners’ dais? David Leggat calls the odds
Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie have the ability to add to their Olympic gold in the 470 sailing event.
Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie have the ability to add to their Olympic gold in the 470 sailing event.

There are 91 days to go until the start of the Rio Olympic Games. Teams are being confirmed, athletes are into the final stages of their preparation for the biggest multi-sports show on earth.

So where are New Zealand's gold medals going to come from?

At London four years ago, New Zealand won six golds as part of a 13-medal haul, the equal best total alongside Seoul in 1988. New Zealand's biggest gold success was the eight of 1984 in Los Angeles.

Various projections claim New Zealand will top that in Rio. But projections are made to be squashed.

So where do New Zealand's best prospects of gold lie?

Lisa Carrington (canoeing)
Previous medals: One Olympic gold; four world championships gold, one silver, one bronze

Carrington has been an outstanding achiever since leaping to prominence with the world K1 200m title in 2011.

She's been a golden performer since then, winning the Olympic crown in London and her dominance of the sprint discipline is total. Now she's added the K1 500m to her list of boxes ticked. She'll arrive in Rio as world titleholder in both disciplines. She's the rock solid favourite over 200m, and at the worst, a strong contender for 500m.

Prediction: In a world of ifs and buts, mark Carrington down for one gold but don't be surprised if she follows Peter Snell, paddlers Ian Ferguson, Paul Macdonald and Alan Thompson and Danyon Loader in nabbing two.

Lydia Ko (golf)
Previous medals: None

Golf is back on the Olympic programme after a 112-year absence and New Zealand have the world's best woman player. Golf being the game it is, there's no guarantees. That said, if Ko brings her best game to Rio's Reserva de Marapendi, she'll be awfully hard to stop.

Prediction: If Ko is close or in the lead at the start of the final round, expect a golden run home.

Mahe Drysdale (rowing)
Previous medals: One Olympic gold, one bronze; five world gold, three silver

The tall guy has a gallant bronze and a superb gold on his Olympic resume. Expect a battle royal between Drysdale and his fierce rival Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic. They have dominated world titles since 2005, sharing all nine since then. Drysdale holds a 5-4 edge. They have been the two titans of the single sculling class. One of them will win the gold.

Prediction: Drysdale, just. He has an ability to dig deep at the toughest times, but this is no done deal by any stretch.

Hamish Bond and Eric Murray (rowing)
Previous medals: Both one Olympic gold, eight world gold

No New Zealand athletes have enjoyed the total dominance of the two big blond guys in the coxless pair. They are unbeaten since teaming up early in 2009, including one of the more inevitable gold medals of the London Games. They will start the hottest of favourites of any New Zealand athletes.

Prediction: Barring some unforeseen disaster, like leaving their oars in the shed, this is gold.

Eve Macfarlane and Zoe Stevenson (rowing)
Previous medals: Macfarlane no Olympic, one gold, one bronze worlds; Stevenson no Olympic, two gold, one silver worlds

The double scullers will arrive in Rio as defending world champions - in Stevenson's case for the last two years. She won in 2014 with Fi Bourke before Macfarlane won the seat last year. They're a strong combination with real speed in the second half to call on.

Prediction: Will add to New Zealand's rosy Olympic rowing honours board.

Julia Edward and Sophie Mackenzie (rowing)
Previous medals: No Olympics; both two world championship golds

The lightweight double scullers won the 2014 world title on very limited preparation; and backed that up impressively in France last year. They appear to have the measure of their rivals, although how they travel in the European campaign pre-Rio will offer more clues. At this stage, they're looking good.

Prediction: Challenges will spring from all quarters but these women have something special going. Gold.

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (49er sailing)
Previous medals: One Olympic silver; four world championship gold

In terms of recent invincibility, the 49er men come closest to Bond and Murray. Having won a silver medal in London, they have been undefeated through 26 regattas. This is remarkable considering the range of conditions sailors have to confront around the sailing globe. They have met, and conquered every challenge.

Prediction: They won't have it all their own way - law of averages, quality of rivals and all that - but expect them to stamp their class and snag a gold.

Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie (470 sailing)
Previous medals: One Olympic gold; one gold, two silver, one bronze world championships

Since winning gold in London, Aleh and Powrie have remained at or near the top of their class without dominating the top of the dais. Expect fierce competition against French, British and Austrian combinations. Still, Aleh and Powrie should be right in the mix at the sharp end.

Prediction: Tough to repeat but have the ability to do it.

Cycling team sprint (Sam Webster, Ethan Mitchell, Eddie Dawkins)
Previous medals: No Olympics; two gold, one silver world championships

Cycling sprint: The symmetry between Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins is something to behold. They won the world title in 2014; crossed first last year, only to be relegated for a riding violation to second; and rebounded to win a second crown in England early this year. They take the lead in that order, with big Dawkins having the role of putting the hammer down for the line over the final 250m.

Prediction: New Zealand to win their first Olympic track cycling gold medal.

Valerie Adams (shot put)
Previous medals: Two Olympic gold; four world champs gold, one silver

Adams faces perhaps her toughest Olympic challenge in Rio. She had a messy, bedevilled by injury, 2015 but returned encouragingly with a bronze medal at the world indoor champs in March. American Michelle Carter and German Christina Schwanitz, the current world outdoor champion, will be formidable opponents. Still Adams, with another four months work in her since the indoors, should be right in the frame.

Valerie Adams faces her toughest Olympic challenge.
Valerie Adams faces her toughest Olympic challenge.

Prediction: Possible gold, with the incentive of becoming New Zealand's most successful woman Olympian and the first athlete to win golds in three straight games. How's that for incentive.

OTHERS YOU'D be wise not to discount: Linda Villumsen (individual time trial); Emma Twigg (rowing single scull); women's sevens; Alex Maloney and Molly Meech (49er FX sailing).

- NZ Herald

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