Olympic hopes: our picks for Rio’s gold medal women

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

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.

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