Big push for Olympic glory
Manawatu¯ will be well-represented by sporting stars at this year’s Tokyo Olympics, reports George Heagney.
Women’s sevens captain and workhorse Sarah Hirini will be one of New Zealand’s leading athletes at the Games.
She has been given the honour as one of the flag bearers for the opening ceremony tonight, along with rower Hamish Bond.
The sevens team are favourites to go one better than at the 2016 Rio Olympics and win gold this year.
New Zealand have been the dominant team since then, winning the Commonwealth Games and World Cup in 2018 and beating other medal contenders.
Hirini, 28, has been at the heart of the team’s success and will do all she can to lead her team to a gold medal.
One of New Zealand’s other top medal chances will be ace track cyclist Campbell Stewart of Palmerston North.
Stewart, 23, has been one of the top track exponents in recent years and is predicted to be a medal chance in the omnium, the team pursuit and possibly the madison.
The team pursuit team of Stewart, Corbin Strong, Aaron Gate, Jordan Kerby and Regan Gough are ranked second in the world.
Manawatu¯ ’s biggest contribution is in hockey, with three players in the women’s team and one in the men’s.
The Olympics is a last hurrah for experienced striker Nick Wilson, who is retiring after the Games.
Wilson, 30, is hoping to go out on a high and bury the demons of the Rio Games, when the Black Sticks lost in the dying seconds of their quarterfinal against Germany.
Originally from Palmerston North, but now living in Auckland, Wilson has been a danger man since his 2007 debut and will want to be in the thick of the action in Tokyo.
In the women’s team, striker Olivia Shannon is tipped as one of the team’s young stars. Shannon, from Waituna West north of Feilding, has been impressive since her debut and will be a threat in front of goal for New Zealand.
It will be the first Olympics for the 20-year-old, who has made a good start to her career.
Feilding High School product Stephanie Dickins is also attending her first Olympics
The 26-year-old defender, who hails from A¯ piti but lives in Auckland, will be part of the side who are keen to improve on their fourth-place finish in 2016.
Tararua’s Megan Hull, 25, rounds out Manawatu¯ ’s Black Sticks contribution.
Hull, from Pongaroa, is a quality defender and it will also be her first Olympics.
Veteran Football Ferns defender Anna Green is attending her fourth Olympic Games.
Green, 30, has been in the New Zealand side since 2006 and been to four World Cups, so her experience will be invaluable for the Football Ferns, who have a tough job of advancing from pool play.
Green, who works as an accountant in Wellington, has played professionally in Europe and Australia.
Palmerston North firefighter Anne
Cairns, 40, is back for another crack at the Olympics, representing Samoa.
The canoe sprinter is entered in the women’s kayak single 200 metres and 500m, where she will be looking to improve on 2016, when she didn’t progress from the heats.
Cairns is a top athlete and has represented New Zealand in wildwater kayaking, sprint flatwater kayaking, whitewater rafting and waka ama, but qualifies to represent Samoa through her mother.
In other Manawatu¯ connections, a trio of rowers who all went to Nga Tawa Diocesan School are competing at the Games.
Georgia Nugent-o’leary, who is from Marton but lives in Cambridge, is competing in the quadruple sculls and it will be her first Olympics.
Sisters Kerri and Jackie Gowler are also attending.
It will be the Olympic debut for Jackie, who competes in the women’s eight, while Kerri was part of the first New Zealand women’s eight to compete at the Olympics in Rio.
Kerri will compete in the women’s pair and eight, and she is favoured to win gold in the pair with Grace Prendergast.
The Gowler sisters’ family used to farm north of Halcombe.
Manawatu¯ expat and sevens veteran Kurt Baker is in the New Zealand men’s team, who are chasing a medal. Baker was most recently playing for Hawke’s Bay last year.
Manawatu¯ can also claim All Whites footballer Elijah Just, who is from Palmerston North, but moved to Wellington as a teenager. He is now with Danish club FC Helsingor.