5 NZ athletes expected to star at Rio Paralympics

By David Leggat

Swimmer Sophie Pascoe is world No1 in four events - 100m butterfly and freestyle, 100m backstroke and 200m individual medley. Photo / Greg Bowker
Swimmer Sophie Pascoe is world No1 in four events - 100m butterfly and freestyle, 100m backstroke and 200m individual medley. Photo / Greg Bowker

1. Sophie Pascoe (Christchurch)

The Christchurch swimmer has been stacking up world championship and Paralympic medals since Beijing in 2008. She has won six gold medals at the last two Paralympics and 13 golds at the last four worlds, along with a plethora of world records. The 23-year-old, who had her left leg amputated below the knee after a family lawnmoving accident when she was three, is world No1 in four events - 100m butterfly and freestyle, 100m backstroke and 200m individual medley.

2. Michael Johnson (Waiuku)

The Counties marksman won a gold medal in 2004 at the Athens Paralympics in his specialist air rifle discipline. He's won two world championship golds, back-to-back bronzes at the Beijing and London Paralympics, and numerous assorted titles at World Cup level. A tetraplegic, the 43-year-old Johnson trains at a range he had built at his Waiuku home. Johnson is world No1 in the 10m disciplines.

"It matches my personality in terms of the need to be quite patient and consistent," Johnson said.

3. Mary Fisher (Wellington)

The Wellington swimmer is among the elite in the Paralympic world, having won eight gold medals and three silver at the last two IPC world championships. She is the world recordholder in the 200m individual medley with a time of 2min 46.91, set four years ago at the London Paralympics. The 23-year-old Bachelor of Arts student student suffers visual impairment and trains up to 14 sessions a week. Fisher is ranked No1 in the world in 100m backstroke, in the S11 category, No2 in the 400m freestyle and the 200m individual medley. Fisher once explained her simple thought processes at the start of a race: "Doing personal bests; that is what I'm looking for every time you swim."

4. Nikita Howarth (Cambridge)

The 17-year-old won two gold medals at last year's world championships in the 50m butterfly an 200m IP and is a good example of an athlete who has made steady progress since debuting at the London Games aged 13, when she was New Zealand's youngest Paralympian. She's ranked No1 in both her best disciplines. Howarth, who has an upper limb deficiency, was inspired to win a Paralympic gold after a school visit from 2004 Olympic cycling champion Sarah Ulmer. Expect her to make an impact in Rio.

5. Emma Foy (Cambridge) and Laura Thompson (Cambridge, sighted pilot)

The para cycling pair have made the women's 3km pursuit their own event at the last three world track championships, winning gold on each occasion, and setting a world record in 2014. The 27-year-old Foy is from Dargaville and was fast-tracked on to the Paralympic high performance programme three years ago and has made rapid progress. In Rio, Foy and Thompson are targeting four events, the 3km pursuit, 1km time trial on the track and the time trial and road race on the road.

NZ target 18 medals

New Zealand will have a team of 31 para athletes and 33 support staff from across six sports in Rio.

New Zealand have set a target of 18 medals - four more than the able-bodied athletes were expected to return at the Olympics, and the exact number they did bring home - in Rio, including 12 gold and defending the London 2012 first placing on the per capita medal table.

There will be eight cyclists, athletes and swimmers in Rio, three sailors, three shooters and one para canoe athlete.

New Zealand's most successful Paralympian is Eve Rimmer, who won 14 medals between 1968 and 1980.

New Zealand are three short of winning their 200th medal across summer and winter Paralympic Games in Rio.

- NZ Herald

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