Before Tokyo, invincible rowers Hamish Bond and Eric Murray had won back-to-back Olympic Games gold medals at London (2012) and Rio (2016) where single sculler Emma Twigg just missed with fourths at both.
That gritty Twigg, 34, struck gold in the single sculls so convincingly this time after a two-year break won unstinting praise from Bond, 35, who added his third gold with a win in the men’s eight.
The performance of both veterans typifies the never-say-die attitude of New Zealand’s greatest sports stars which allows them to punch well above such a small country’s weight.
We rejoice in that but a column of this size doesn’t do full justice to our athletes’ medal count which at the time of writing stood at 11 – four gold, three silver and four bronze.
With the coxless pair of Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler also striking gold and the women’s eight and double sculls of Brooke Donoghue and Hannah Osborne adding silver, rowing once again did New Zealand proud.
Prendergast and Gowler were also members of an eight which included Ella Greenslade, Emma Dyke, Lucy Spoors. Kelsey Bevan, Beth Ross, Jackie Gowler and coxswain Caleb Shepherd and lost to Canada by 0.91s.
Joining the remarkable Bond in the gold medal men’s eight – our first since since Munich 1972 when God Defend New Zealand made its Olympic Games debut – were Tom MacKintosh, Tom Murray, Michael Brake, Dan Williamson, Phillip Wilson, Shaun Kirkham, Matt MacDonald and Sam Bosworth (cox)
What made this gold all the more satisfying was they had to survive a repechage to make the final.
Sevens also displayed our rugby players special skills with the women and Portia Woodman in particular overcoming the tears of the 2016 Rio gold medal loss to Australia when the prolific try-scorer was sin-binned in the dying stages.
This time they made no mistake with a comprehensive 26-12 triumph against talented France when popular skipper Sarah Hirini led them superbly.
An emotional Hirini (nee Goss) paid tribute to her team-mates, claiming a key factor in their sensational success on the world stage since Rio five years ago was their love for one another. It shows.
This gold medal win was not surprising given the try-scoring talent of speedsters Woodman, Michaela Blyde, Gayle Broughton, Stacey Fluhler and Ruby Tui. But only after they survived a tense extra time semi-final against Fiji before sidestepper Broughton’s winning try brought relief and smiles.
That the superbly built Fijian men successfully defended their Rio sevens gold against New Zealand through a combination of speed, power and deft ball handling could not be denied. Long may it give pride to their people who have been hit hard by Covid-19.
Bronze medals are also to be treasured, especially when they come from athletes who perform beyond expectations,
That was the case when triathlete Hayden Wilde produced a strong run to finish third in the men’s race and Dylan Schmidt (trampoline) and Michael Venus and Marcus Daniell (men’s tennis doubles) did the same.
With kayak queen Lisa Carrington leading the charge for more medals along with sailors Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, New Zealanders confidently await more riches over the next week.
- Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer