Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Rio Olympics 2016: NZ women stepping up in Rio

Kiwi women, including golf silver medallist Lydia Ko, have been inspirational in Rio. Photo / Photosport
Kiwi women, including golf silver medallist Lydia Ko, have been inspirational in Rio. Photo / Photosport

It began with a bang. Literally. Or, more accurately, a series of bangs. Natalie Rooney kicked off a historic Olympic Games for New Zealand women when she snared silver in the trap shooting on day two of the Rio Games - a result that came as a shock to everyone except the Timaru treasure.

Thirteen days later, there were no surprises when world No1 Lydia Ko found herself among the first batch of Olympic medallists in women's golf, capping off a brilliant Games for New Zealand women when she captured the country's ninth silver medal with a nerveless final putt.

In between, there were several more seminal moments - Lisa Carrington's double medal-winning feats on the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon; sailing pair Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie's tenacious fightback in the women's 470; and Eliza McCartney's joy as she launched herself to bronze in her first Olympic Games.

Eleven of New Zealand's record haul of 18 medals were won by female athletes, making these Olympics a defining moment for women's sport.

There is a wonderful saying "if I can see it, I can be it", and the fact New Zealand's top sportswomen have headlined the Rio campaign is significant when it comes to inspiring young girls to get involved in sport.

Female athletes have limited visibility in the four years between each Olympics. Their feats are rarely captured on the back page of the newspaper or lead the news bulletins, or even broadcast on TV.

Yet in Rio, kayaker Carrington, shot put star Valerie Adams and Ko, who were all bidding for a place in New Zealand Olympic history, generated plenty of interest.

That our female medallists came from a diverse range of sports is of further significance. Young girls will now aspire to fend like Portia Woodman, soar like Eliza, paddle like Luuka Jones, roar like Valerie, or guts it out like Jo and Polly.

The success of New Zealand women in Rio hasn't come as a surprise for those who have been watching their steady rise over the past couple of Olympic cycles.

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

The emergence of these world-beating women has a lot to do with the introduction of a targeted funding model in 2006. Having an investment strategy for athletes based solely on results has eroded the potential for any bias - whether unconscious or otherwise - that (predominantly male) sporting administrators may have towards men's programmes.

Whereas in the past, sports bosses might have placed more stock in the men's programmes and channelled resources towards that, the system now offers more transparency.

When funding decisions are based purely on performance, women are stepping forward.

- NZ Herald

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Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Dana has more than a decade's experience in sports journalism, joining the Herald in 2007 following stints with TVNZ and RadioSport. Over that time Dana has covered several major events including the 2011 Netball World Cup in Singapore, 2011 Rugby World Cup, 2012-13 Volvo Ocean Race, and the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco. A multi-award winning journalist, Dana was named New Zealand Sports Journalist of the Year in 2012 after scooping both the news and feature categories at the TP McLean Awards. The previous year she picked up the prize for best news break. She was also an inaugural recipient of the Sir John Wells scholarship at the 2009 NZSJA awards. Dana also writes a weekly sports column for the NZ Herald.

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