NEW ZEALAND chef de mission Rob Waddell is predicting a top-10 finish for the Kiwis at next month's Rio Olympic Games.
"The medal target is 14, one more than at the last Olympics. Depending on how many of these are gold we could finish among the top 10," Waddell told Hawke's Bay Today in an exclusive interview before a speech at a Hastings Rugby and Sports fundraising function at the Hawke's Bay Racing Centre last night.
"Twenty-three of our athletes or teams are ranked among the top 10 on the Olympic rankings in their respective events so that gives us an indication of their potential," Waddell said.
An Olympic Games rowing single sculls gold medallist in 2000 at Sydney and multiple world champion, Waddell, 41, has been to Rio six times to check on progress with facilities and venues.
"I've picked up something new each time and everything is coming together pretty well. There is still work to be done at some of the venues but they're ones which will be used towards the end of the Games,' he said. "They should be a good Games but they may not be the perfect Games because it is such a big event."
The former Waikato rugby representative and Team New Zealand America's Cup yachting representative pointed out "there should be an even field of play for the athletes and the Rio people will have the best chance possible to make the Games a good experience".
Waddell, who leaves New Zealand tomorrow to prepare for the August 5-21 Games, said the biggest challenge for the 360-strong Kiwi team will be staying healthy.
"There's a 1 per cent chance of error in this respect which can have a 100 per cent impact on results. Those involved with water-related sports like sailing, rowing and triathlon have to be particularly careful.
"Another of my challenges is to ensure everyone comes home safely. All of our athletes have to look after each other to make sure it's a success in this regard," Waddell said.
He admitted to being surprised at the number of withdrawals among the top golfers and the amount of discussion it has generated.
"The Zika virus has had more of an impact on golf than any of the other sports. I respect every athlete's personal decision and it's important everyone understands and respects the safety of family. I'm pleased all of our golfers are coming."
Waddell has heard criticism the Olympics had become too big and there were too many codes catered for. He disagreed with it.
"The Olympics are under constant review. They are one big sporting event which involves a lot of codes all coming together at one place. The new head of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach of Germany, is focused on having that healthy mix. One of the great things about the Olympics is its spread across all sections of society ... part of the appeal is the wide representation."
Waddell agreed the Kiwi men's rowing quadruple sculls crew haven't had the ideal build up with a late call up after Russian rower Sergey Fedorovtsev failed a drug test. Jade Uru, Nathan Flannery, George Bridgewater and John Storey replaced the Russian crew as they narrowly missed a berth at the Games at the last chance Olympic qualifying regatta in Switzerland in May.
"I'm pretty relieved our crew is getting a second chance and this dishonesty problem has been addressed.
"They've had a few weeks off training but they haven't had a year off. I regard this crew as a definite medal prospect."
Waddell, who attended at least two New Year's regattas at Clive during his younger days as a competitor, combined last night's function with a family holiday in the Bay with his wife and fellow Olympian Sonia and their three children.
He was thrilled with the Hawke's Bay hospitality.
"I'm about to leave the family for eight weeks so it was great to have that quality time."