NZ Commonwealth Games team say 'improvement' big goal for Gold Coast




There are two buzzwords floating around the New Zealand cohort as they set up for April's Commonwealth Games campaign.

We've already beaten our London total, and the NZ chef de mission says he’s excited about more medal prospects to come.

Rob Waddell.

Source: Photosport

The first is improvement.

Improvement on past Games, both Olympic and Commonwealth; improvement on the medal table; improvement of the services and systems the athletes need.

Naturally, bettering the 14 gold medals garnered in Glasgow in 2014 - a record on foreign soil - remains a priority in a brutally results-driven sphere.

But the second buzzword is evolution.

"It's not a big, radical change," Kiwi chef de mission Rob Waddell told NZN.

"We feel like what we've been doing has been good, but we'll always look for ways to keep learning, to keep improving.

"The bar keeps changing in high-performance sport throughout the world, the teams and individuals are getting faster and harder to beat.

"We're a tiny part of the (overall) result, the group that takes the athletes away, but we want our small part to be an advantage, not a disadvantage."

For a solid chunk of the past 18 months, Waddell has been bunkered away, seeking out the one percenters that'll help New Zealand reach new heights.

And, with just one month until the Gold Coast Games' opening ceremony on April 4, those plans are excitingly close to fruition.

Waddell and the remainder of the New Zealand preparatory crew will be on the ground in south-east Queensland by late March, at which point they'll register the athletes and begin work on the Kiwis' home base.

Having commandeered the country's efforts both in Glasgow and at the 2016 Rio Olympics, it's not a foreign experience for the ex-rowing champion.

"The village area you've got is a big blank canvas," Waddell said.

"We have a number of things we do to make it work for our team, right down to setting up a performance and recovery centre, our gym, things like that.

"Then you're welcoming athletes in."

Up to 250 athletes are expected to cross the ditch in a month's time - the largest ever Kiwi Commonwealth team - and will compete in 18 sports.

Gold medal hopes are scattered across the disciplines, despite the absence of New Zealand's traditional rowing and sailing strengths.

In the field, Tom Walsh and Valerie Adams may complete a men's and women's shot put double, while Eliza McCartney is a women's pole vault frontrunner.

Joelle King has gone from strength to strength in women's squash in the past 12 months, pushing her way into regular World Series event contention.

Sophie Pascoe is a nailed-on gold-medallist in para swimming, and shooter Natalie Rooney remains a solid shout in the women's trap.

In team sports, the picture appears less rosy.

The Silver Ferns have capitulated to Australia five times in a row, while the All Blacks Sevens and Black Ferns Sevens have appeared shaky of late.

Both the men's and women's hockey Black Sticks are also long odds for gold, as are the Tall Blacks and Tall Ferns in the re-established basketball stakes.

Even leading men's team sprint cycling trio of Sam Webster, Ethan Mitchell and Eddie Dawkins could only finish sixth at this month's world championships.

Nevertheless, Waddell acknowledged the Kiwi effort in Glasgow of 14 gold, 14 silver and 17 bronze set a benchmark for the 2018 team.

But he encouraged athletes not to mull on it too long.

"To get a like-for-like comparison is always tricky, especially at Commonwealth Games, but we want to keep improving," Waddell said.

"All we ask is that our athletes get there and do the best they can, focus on what they need to do and, achieving that, we think the outcomes will follow.

"Any athlete going to the Games stands a chance of doing very well - that's why they're selected in the first place."

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