New Zealand performed its best Olympic medal outcome at the 2016 Rio Games. It was an exceptional event for us with 18 medals won; 4 gold, 9 silver and 5 bronze. The maths nerd in me worked out the stats compared to the top three medal earners of the USA, China and Great Britain. The US has a population of roughly 320 million people and won 120 medals, or 1 medal per 2.7 million people. China’s population of 1.4 billion will always challenge the stats as their 70 medals equated to 1 per 20 million people. Great Britain has 64 million people and won 67 medals, or 1 per 955 000.
The population of New Zealand is just under 2.5 million so our 18 medals gives us an admirable 1 per 250 000 proud Kiwis. What many people won’t realise is how those statistics reflect the challenge athletes face in gaining funding to participate in Olympic games. The smaller the ratio of medals to population, the greater the financial burden per head. As well, many of our participants were members of teams, not individual events; men and women’s hockey and rugby sevens, equestrian and sculls.
What I love about the Olympics is how athletes represent so much about the culture of their home countries. For New Zealand, water sports such as sailing and rowing reflect our ties to the waters that flow through and around our island nation. Hockey, rugby and equestrian events reflect strong participation in team sports and the outdoors.
Perhaps our proudest moment and one that touched the world was the behaviour of runners Nikki Hamblin (NZ) and Abbey D’Agostino (US). Both tumbled to the ground after colliding in the Women’s 5000 meter race. D’Agostino encouraged Hamblin to get up with her and finish the race. While both continued running, Hamblin regularly stopped and supported an injured D’Agostino to finish the race even though it meant neither would qualify for the final. She has been presented with the International Fair Play Committee Award for Rio 2016 and is being considered for the Pierre de Coubertin award for sportsmanship, awarded only 17 times in the whole of Olympic history.
The hashtag for these Olympic Games is #betheinspiration and I can think of no athlete who deserves it more than Nikki Hamblin. And I have no doubt that she and our other athletes will inspire the fair but competitive next generation of New Zealand Olympians.