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Rio Olympics 2016: Is this New Zealand's darkest Olympic day?

By David Leggat

With the men's sevens, equestrian, rowing and hockey all facing tough loses, is this the worst day in New Zealand Olympic history? Photo / Getty
With the men's sevens, equestrian, rowing and hockey all facing tough loses, is this the worst day in New Zealand Olympic history? Photo / Getty

As the bad news kept coming with a rare relentlessness, the question arose: was today New Zealand's worst Olympic day?

Without a full forensic examination it's a tough call, but it's reasonable to assert it was down in the depths.

But try this: 16 years ago, New Zealand had a dreadful first week. Each night the country was lampooned on Australian TV by a couple of characters who rejoiced each fresh day in Australian delight while harpooning the mob from the Shaky Isles. How they chortled.

Not until the middle Saturday was there real reason to crow, when Rob Waddell won the single sculling gold. That proved to be New Zealand's only gold, to sit alongside three bronze, with no silver. Think about that a second, then recall Australia were tying kangaroos down all over the wide brown land, sport: 16 gold, 25 silver and 17 bronze.

A better perspective on New Zealand's day might be this: given that rugby, rowing and eventing are regarded as three of New Zealand's gilt-edged medal contenders, how will today's events affect their medal prospects in Rio?

High Performance Sport New Zealand tipped the country's best athletes to snaffle 14 medals. That seemed a timid call by sports paymasters, remember just one more than in London four years ago.

Then again, the three sports who have had a day to forget in Rio were among the big fancies.

At the other end of the spectrum, there have been some wildly optimistic tips. It always happens as the four-year cycle is coming to a head.

Athlete performances rise and with it the expectation that medals will come with it. The only point about that is a couple of hundred nations have athletes who are on exactly the same time schedule.

New Zealand's sevens men did revive their campaign with a win in their second game yesterday over Kenya, having been tipped over by Japan 14-12. But this is rugby, and it matters to this country. Losses, especially the first ever to Japan, are regarded as unacceptable.

The two double sculling combinations, Zoe Stevenson and Eve Macfarlane and Robbie Manson and Chris Harris, were expected to, at least, make their finals. Now they're gone. The women, in particular, having been world sculling champions for the last two years.

But high achievers rowing are still in line for, potentially, as many as six medals, even though three of their 11 Rio crews have been eliminated.

The eventing team were warmly fancied to make, or certainly threaten, the podium. As it happened, they would have won gold but for Mark Todd, of all people, and his horse Leonidas II dropping four rails to finish fourth. Even three down would have got them a bronze.

Of the other misses today, the men's Black Sticks, ranked eighth in the world, arrived in Rio as no more than outside contenders for the podium. Two losses in their first three games does not bode well.

So might it come to be that HPSNZ's pick proves not far wide of the mark?

The Los Angeles Games of 1984 remain the country's best in purely golden terms, with eight won, all sitting down.

Balancing the disappointments today, remember trap shooter Natalie Rooney, quietly tipped as a dark horse - as distinct from a solid medal hope - provided an unexpected bonu with her silver medal. So a case of swings and roundabouts perhaps.

Still today's events throw into sharp focus how predictions around Olympic Games can be a fraught business.

- NZ Herald

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