Going for gold: New Zealand's leading medal contenders in Tokyo

Five years ago, the New Zealand Olympic team smashed the nation's medal record, bringing home 18 medals, five more than the mark of 13 set at the London 2012 and Seoul 1988 Games.

Since then, there has been something of a generational change. There is no Mahe Drysdale, no Eric Murray, and no Eliza McCartney, who missed out after failing to recover from injury.

The likes of Valerie Adams and Nick Willis - both multiple Olympic medallists - are now well into their mid-30s and in the twilight of their careers.

But there are still many familiar faces, and some new stars, who look set to go for gold in Tokyo.

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The Kiwi shot put great admits to 1 NEWS she's still "trying to process" leaving her young kids behind for Tokyo. Source: 1 NEWS

Dame Valerie Adams (Athletics - shot put)
Dame Valerie heads to Tokyo as our most experienced Olympian in the team, this being her fifth Games since debuting at Athens in 2004. A gold medallist in 2008 and 2012, Adams had a third straight gold snatched away on the final throw at Rio 2016 by American Michelle Carter. Now 36, this will more than likely be the last Olympics for one of New Zealand’s greatest sportswomen, and she recently told 1 NEWS she planned to leave it all out there at Tokyo, as she seeks to become the first shot putter of either gender to win three Olympic golds. Her form has been strong and she has the third best throw in the world this year. Her longtime rival Carter has also pulled out of the Games, giving Adams a timely break.

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The pair are juggling various commitments but right now, an Olympic defence is their No.1 focus. Source: 1 NEWS

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (Sailing - 49er)
The heroes of Team New Zealand’s America’s Cup defence earlier this year, Burling and Tuke join forces once again in the 49er as they seek back-to-back Olympic golds. The pair are clear favourites heading into Tokyo, their experience and ability arguably second to none. Incredibly, this is Burling’s fourth Olympics, having debuted in Beijing at the age of just 17. Though there are not many reasons to worry about the medal potential of the duo, a small concern may be the limited time they have had in the 49er boat due to their heavy schedule with the America’s Cup and SailGP campaigns.

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An exit in the quarter-finals at the 2016 Olympics left Clark Laidlaw facing a big rebuild. Source: 1 NEWS

Rugby sevens teams
Let’s be honest, Kiwis believed two gold medal were essentially a given when it was announced rugby sevens were to be included at the Rio Olympics in 2016. But things didn’t go to plan, the men only winning one group game and crashing out in the quarter-finals to eventual winners Fiji, while the women were beaten in the final by Australia. The women certainly look likely to push for gold this time around, while the men will be hoping to medal at the very least.

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This week the eight has been training in Christchurch for the first time in decades. Source: 1 NEWS

Women’s rowing eight
The headline of New Zealand’s rowing team, the women’s eight head to Tokyo as world champions and favourites for a gold medal. The eight won by nearly three seconds at the 2019 world championships and will be looking to maintain that dominance in Tokyo. If they do, they will become the first New Zealand team to medal in the women’s event, and the first of either gender since 1972. Ten athletes have been selected, with the final makeup of the boat to be named prior to competition.

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Women's pair Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast are hoping to also win gold with the eight. Source: 1 NEWS

Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast (Rowing - women’s pair)
Two of those eight are Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast, who will also compete in the pair event. The duo won gold at the world championships in 2019, while they set the world record time for the event two years prior. Both have Olympic experience, having been a part of the eight that finished fourth in Rio, but have made the pair their own in recent years. There is no doubt they head to Tokyo as heavy favourites to win gold.

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Walsh has arrived in the United States for his final preparations before the Tokyo Olympics. Source: 1 NEWS

Tom Walsh (Athletics - shot put)
A bronze medallist in Rio, the shot putter from Timaru is hungry for even greater success. After winning three events in a row in the build-up to Tokyo, Walsh told 1 NEWS he had his sights set on only one thing – a gold medal. But to get there he will have to topple Rio gold medallist and heavy favourite Ryan Crouser, of the USA, who broke the 31-year-old world record at the Olympic trials in June, throwing a mammoth 23.37m, well over a metre further than Walsh’s best throw this year. However, Crouser will still have to deliver in Tokyo, and any slip up could allow Walsh to snatch that coveted gold. Even if the American does defend his title, Walsh should still be in strong contention for silver or bronze.

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There’s been plenty of work on and off the water for the four selected to overcome. Source: 1 NEWS

Lisa Carrington (Canoe sprint - K1 200m, 500m, K2 500m, K4 500m)
One of the most dominant athletes in her sport, Carrington will be chasing a further four medals at Tokyo, to go alongside the three she already owns. This will be her third Olympics and she will be seeking to become the first Kiwi to win three successive Olympic gold medals in the same event, after being selected for the K1 200m. Carrington’s influence on the sport of canoe sprinting in this country has also come to the fore, as New Zealand look set to take their strongest ever canoe sprint team to the Olympics. Caitlin Regal, Alicia Hoskin and Teneale Hatton will line up alongside Carrington in the K4 500m, while Regal, who set a world best time in the K1 500m in 2018, will join Carrington in a formidable duo in the K2 500m. The odds of the team bringing home multiple gold medals are very high.

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The pair were two of seven confirmed as NZ's first Olympians were named for the Tokyo Games. Source: Breakfast

Alex Maloney and Molly Meech (Sailing - 49er)
The Rio silver medalists are teaming up once again in Tokyo in the 49er, this time with their eyes set on gold. The duo have been at the top of their field for the best part of a decade and while Covid-19 has no doubt disrupted their build-up for Tokyo, their experience and ability could become vital on the big stage next month. The pair failed to medal at their most recent international regatta in Spain earlier this year, but have since returned home and have been training hard ahead of what is expected to be an exciting competition in Tokyo.

Sam Meech of New Zealand celebrates winning the bronze medal in the Men's Laser class. Source: Getty

Sam Meech (Sailing - Laser)
Another Rio medallist, Meech returns to the Olympics looking to add to his collection. One of the world’s best laser sailors, Meech’s consistency is superb – until the end of 2019, he had failed to finish outside the top six in any competition in the previous two years – and there is no doubt he will be in and around the medals in Tokyo. A frustrating world championships in Melbourne last year saw Meech finish in eighth and he will be hoping to vastly improve on that performance on the Olympic stage.

Erica Dawson and Micah Wilkinson (Sailing - Nacra)
The fresh faces of the sailing team, Dawson and Wilkinson are teaming up in the technically difficult Nacra boat at their first Olympic Games. The pair teamed up in 2019 and have quickly progressed to become one of the best crews in the world. They finished 19th at the 2019 world championships, seventh the following year, and in their latest regatta in Spain, finished second against 17 international crews. It seems like the duo are peaking just at the right time.

Campbell Stewart, Regan Gouch, Jordan Kerby and Corbin Strong of New Zealand during the Men's Team Pursuit first round on the opening day of the World Cup meeting in Brisbane. Source: Photosport

Campbell Stewart (Cycling - Omnium and men's team pursuit)
Stewart headlines New Zealand’s strong cycling contingent heading to Tokyo. The 23-year-old from Palmerston North will be competing in his first Olympic Games as a defending world champion in the omnium and a key part of the pursuit team. In his young career, Stewart has already won two silver medals at the Commonwealth Games and a gold and two silvers at the World Championships. He won’t be the only one hoping to medal at this year’s Games, with the Kiwi sprint and pursuit teams also likely to push hard for gold.

Laurel Hubbard (Weightlifting - women's 87kg+)
Hubbard is set to become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics. The 43-year-old is one of the best weightlifters in the world in her 87kg+ category and could be in line to medal in Tokyo. After suffering a potentially career-ending injury at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Hubbard has come back strongly, finishing sixth at the 2019 world championships, before winning the world cup in Rome last year. However, there is plenty of competition to deal with, and likely only a personal best will see her medal.

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Hubbard, David Liti, Kanah Andrews-Nahu and Megan Signal will be heading to Tokyo. Source: 1 NEWS


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