Olympic hopes: our picks for Rio’s gold medal women
Rio 2016 is tipped to be a landmark Olympics for our female athletes, who could lead the way in the New Zealand medal haul. Suzanne McFadden looks at seven women who have a real shot at individual gold.
Triathlon There will be no success in Rio more emotional than Andrea Hewitt’s if she steps up onto the triathlon medal podium.
It will have been nine months since her coach and fiancé, Laurent Vidal, died in his sleep of a suspected heart attack. They met as triathletes competing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics; the Frenchman was fifth in men’s tri at the 2012 Olympics, where Andrea was sixth in the women’s race. They wanted to marry this year.
Together they had perfected a plan leading up to Rio for Andrea, determined to finally make the Olympic dais on her third attempt. She was in spectacular form, ending the 2015 World Triathlon Series as No. 2 in the world, and the first New Zealand athlete chosen to compete in Rio.
When she lost the love of her life, Andrea left France, returning home to Christchurch to the support of family and friends.
Determined to carry on to Rio, the five-time world championship medallist took on Chris Pilone and John Hellemans as her coaches. Andrea, now 34, marked her return to the world stage this season with another string of podium finishes.
Laurent’s philosophy will guide Andrea in Rio. “We were together every day, so I had to change all of that and find my own path and way of doing things,” she told ONE News.
“That’s been the hardest.”
LYDIA KO Golf
At 19 years old, Lydia already has a lifetime of sporting firsts. So why not one more, as the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal in golf?
The first – and last – time women’s golf was played at the Olympics was the 1900 Paris games, where Margaret Abbott was the first American female athlete to win Olympic gold – but received a bowl for her prize.
The Korean-born sensation – given her first clubs by an aunt at age five and becoming a leading amateur at 12 – is Rio’s golden favourite.
Her list of firsts includes last year becoming the youngest professional – man or woman – to hold the world No. 1 ranking. She was the youngest person ever to win a professional tour event – as a 14-year-old Auckland schoolgirl dominating the 2012 NSW Open. She’d won 10 pro tournaments before her 18th birthday.
For the world’s top women’s golfer, teeing off at the Olympics promises to be the highlight of her year – and something she feels she can truly win for her country.
EMMA TWIGG Rowing
At the peak of her international career, Emma Twigg took a gamble: she stopped competing and went back to school.
Although the 2014 single sculls world champion – and world female rower of the year – still had her heart set on gold at Rio, she knew she performed better when rowing wasn’t everything in her life.
So she spent a year studying sports management, law and humanities in 2015, travelling between universities in England, Italy and Switzerland.
Emma didn’t drop her oars altogether. Wherever she was studying, she found a nearby lake to train on; in Switzerland, she rode her bike through the Alps.
Dedication to her books has paid off. Refreshed and recharged, she won the ‘last-chance’ regatta in Lucerne in May, earning a ticket to her third Olympic Games. And in June, she won silver in the dress rehearsal World Cup event in Poland, finishing just behind her arch-rival, Australian Kim Brennan.
At 29, Emma is now four years wiser than when she finished fourth at the London Games. She is simply happy to be taking enjoyment from her rowing, she says, rather than focusing solely on the end result.
“WE WERE TOGETHER EVERY DAY, SO I HAD TO CHANGE ALL OF THAT AND FIND MY OWN PATH AND WAY OF DOING THINGS.”
LISA CARRINGTON Canoeing
No one in the world has come within a paddle’s width of out-sprinting Lisa Carrington in a kayak for five years.
And although the 27-year-old already owns an Olympic gold medal, she has her sights set on going one better in Rio by taking out a rare Olympic double.
Raised in Ohope, and of Te Aitanga-aMahaki and Ngati Porou descent, Lisa was a water baby who first represented New Zealand as a surf lifesaver, before taking up kayaking at 16. She shot into the limelight with her 2011 world championship victory in the K1 women’s 200m sprint, and followed that up with Olympic gold in London the following year. She hasn’t been beaten over 200m in every major world event since.
Lisa is now New Zealand’s most successful paddler at world championship level – her haul of five golds eclipsing triple titleholder and Olympic legend Paul MacDonald. The reigning world champion in the K1 200m and K1 500m, she’s targeting medals in both events in Rio.
To stay hungry for success, Lisa sometimes “shuts down” from paddling – balancing her life with family, friends and study.
Following on from her Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in politics and Maori studies, she’s now doing a graduate diploma in sports psychology – which no doubt comes in handy in the pressurecooker of competition.
LAUREN BOYLE Swimming
Since that heartbreaking moment in London four years ago – when Lauren Boyle spilled a torrent of tears after narrowly missing a bronze medal in the pool – she’s become our most successful swimmer in history.
In that short time, the freestyle star has claimed five of New Zealand’s total of 10 world championship medals. She also set a world record over 1500m, was crowned a world short-course champion, and collected gold and silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
But it hasn’t all been smooth waters since Aucklander Lauren was fourth in the 800m freestyle in London. She struggled to find a coach, but finally found a happy base on Queensland’s Gold Coast, with Australian swimming guru Dennis Cotterell.
With a business administration degree from the University of California Berkeley behind her, her days are now solely focused on swimming and Rio, her third Olympic Games.
There’s still one major hurdle for 28-year-old Lauren to overcome in the pool in Barra da Tijuca – American teenage swimming phenomenon, Katie Ledecky, who has won every major race since her debut at age 15 at the
2012 Olympics. But Lauren will use her No. 1 rival as motivation in the 400m and 800m in Rio – her bid to break
New Zealand swimming’s 20-year medal drought.
LINDA VILLUMSEN Cycling
When Linda Villumsen rode at her first Olympics, it was in the red and white skinsuit of Denmark. But when she became a world champion last year, she was kitted out totally – from helmet to wheels – in the black of her adopted nation.
Born in Herning, a small soccer-mad city in Denmark, Linda fell head over heels for New Zealand when she came here as a shy 16-year-old exchange student with faltering English.
A natural but highly dedicated cyclist, Linda rode her way to the 2008 Olympics for Denmark. But the following year, she became a New Zealand citizen.
After a string of world medals – two silvers, two bronze – in her specialist road time-trial event, Linda thought about retiring in 2013.
But with a change of heart, she poured her efforts into winning Commonwealth gold in Glasgow in 2014, before finally claiming a world championship title in Virginia last year.
While riding an all-black bike got her into strife with her professional team, nothing could take away from her pride in winning a world title for New Zealand.
Linda, now 31, will be surrounded by cycling family in Rio. Her partner, Emma Trott, was an English international cyclist; Emma’s sister, Laura Trott, is a double Olympic track cycling champion, who will also be gunning for gold.
VALERIE ADAMS Shot put
Even after winning back-to-back Olympic golds, Valerie Adams has never been hungrier for success.
It’s been four trying years for the world shot put queen since the London Olympics, when she was belatedly awarded the gold medal stripped from Belarusian drugs cheat Nadzeya Ostapchuk.
Val has since undergone five surgeries – including one on her throwing arm – which meant missing her chance for a fifth straight world champion title last year. But she was determined to get things right – not only so she can defend the Olympic titles she won in Beijing and London, but so she can “lift my kids up, and my grandkids up, later on in life”.
Going into Rio, Val is on top of the world. In April, she married her sweetheart and childhood friend, Gabriel Price, at a small Mormon ceremony in Hamilton. She has a rock-solid support team around her: charismatic Swiss coach Jean-Pierre Eggers, and her physio of 16 years, former New Zealand hockey player Louise Johnson.
Returning from knee surgery to win bronze at the world indoor champs this year, her eyes were on a much bigger prize. If she wins in Rio, at her fourth Olympics, she will become the very first New Zealand athlete to win three Olympic golds in a row.
WHILE RIDING AN ALL-BLACK BIKE GOT HER INTO STRIFE, NOTHING COULD TAKE AWAY FROM HER PRIDE IN WINNING A WORLD TITLE.
SHE’S BECOME OUR MOST SUCCESSFUL SWIMMER IN HISTORY.
IF SHE WINS SHE WILL BECOME THE FIRST NZ ATHLETE TO WIN THREE GOLDS IN A ROW.