New Zealand is almost certain to have the biggest Olympic team in its history in Tokyo next year.

The first step in that process commenced yesterday with the announcement of the long list, encompassing more than 1,000 athletes from 31 sports.

It's only the initial stage, and the vast majority of hopefuls won't make it to the Games, as the qualifying standards prove too tough.

But it's expected that the New Zealand team will exceed 200 members for the first time in Japan.

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Over half of yesterday's list is comprised of athletes in team sports, including men's and women's squads for rugby sevens, hockey, football and basketball.

Also included are baseball and waterpolo teams.

Baseball hasn't featured at the Olympics since 2008, while waterpolo has been part of the Games since 1900, but New Zealand has never sent teams from either discipline.

Sports in which this country has a long standing Olympic tradition are well represented on the list, with rowing, athletics, equestrian and cycling all having between 50 and 85 names.

A quartet of individual sports will be introduced to the Olympic program next year — surfing, skateboarding, karate and sport climbing — and there are Kiwi contenders in each of those four sports.

At this stage, the only events that will definitely not have New Zealand representation in Tokyo are handball and modern penthalon.

"With the long list in place, we can help make sure athletes are progressing towards meeting the New Zealand team selection standard and have met eligibility requirements around things like integrity, anti-doping and citizenship," said New Zealand Olympic Committee CEO Kereyn Smith.

"The long list also helps us manage the complex logistics around the Olympic Games and can help those on the road to Tokyo 2020 understand what to expect."

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The NZOC's selection criteria requires athletes to demonstrate they are capable of finishing in the top 16 of their event at the Games, with potential to finish in the top eight.

The nomination criteria, which describe the events and results an athlete needs to demonstrate the NZOC selection standard, are developed in conjunction with each national federation.

Ultimately, nomination and selection to the New Zealand team is reliant on a quota spot being secured for the event at the Games (either by country or by name), then meeting the relevant federation's nomination criteria and the NZOC selection policy.

New Zealand sent 199 athletes to the 2016 Games in Rio, an increase of 15 on the figure for London in 2012.

Four years earlier in Beijing the team was 182-strong, while the 2004 Games in Athens featured 148 New Zealand competitors.

In terms of participants the Tokyo Games is expected to be the largest sporting event in history, with more than 11,000 athletes from 206 nations set to compete in 33 sports.