By Keith Miller
Gold in London in the K1 200 metres Canoe Sprint, Gold again in Rio. Lisa Carrington carried the weight of the nation’s expectations on her shoulders overnight, and fought back hard to win the event in 39.864 seconds. It was a fine effort – just as the commentary was suggesting she was behind and could be in trouble, a six to seven stroke burst from the champion athlete saw her thrust ahead of the pack and bring it home in exceptional style.
Carrington now moves to the K1 500 event, where qualification starts at 1.09am tomorrow morning, before looking to repeat the Gold Medal dose early on Friday morning NZ time. It is by no means out of the question.
On the water, Blair Tuke & Peter Burling were hardly surprise winners in the 49ers, but that should not detract from an incredibly strong performance that has seen them take the Gold medal with a day’s racing to spare – no mean feat. Sam Meech did very well to collect the Bronze in the Laser Class, a first and a fourth in the last two races signifying a very strong finish. Polly Powrie & Jo Aleh have fought back from disqualification to sit in second place with a day to go.
New Zealand’s Track Cycling efforts in the velodrome have limped to an end. A medal haul (not necessarily a golden frenzy) was predicted, but a narrow silver in the Men’s Sprint Team event will be the sole reward. Eddie Dawkins was unlucky in both the sprint and the Keirin qualifications to get caught up in the pack, but he was deemed a very strong prospect in the Keirin in particular. Some even suggested that he was an outside shot for the gold, so to see him not even qualify was a bitter pill to swallow.
There were other very good performances – fourth in both the Men’s and Women’s Team Pursuits, and a plucky fourth in the Omnium for Lauren Ellis springing to mind – but overall this must be viewed as an extremely disappointing campaign for the NZ team.
On the track, there was a reasonably strong NZ presence on offer. Eliza McCartney stumbled early, and hearts were in mouths as she cleared 4.55m on her final attempt. But she then gathered herself, and was one of only four competitors to meet the 4.60m qualification mark – there has been some carnage further down the field. Some strong competitors failed to meet the criteria, leaving McCartney as a very solid medal chance in the event at 11.30pm on Saturday night.
Nick Willis looked as though he may be in trouble entering the home straight during his 1500 metre heat, but powered home strongly through the field in a very composed performance. The big story, however, came in the Women’s 5,000 metres heats. Around a mile from home, New Zealander Nikki Hamblin shuffled to miss a slow runner in front of her – the ensuing tangle between Hamblin & American Abbey D’Agostino will go down as one of the moments of Rio 2016.
Both lay prone on the track, distraught. Then they helped each other up and completed the race, despite being overwhelmed by what had just occurred. D’Agostino in particular looked in real distress, but completed the circuit on one leg. The embrace they pair shared upon completion of the race was both gut wrenching and heart-warming at the same time, and, as Radio Sport commentator Brian Ashby declared, that moment could well be the strongest candidate for the 2016 Pierre de Coubertin Award for fair play at the Olympic Games.
An interesting footnote to the incident came as a result of both Hamblin and D’Agostino being allowed to advance to the 5,000 metres final. There’s no doubt that when they walk on to the track, the response will be enormous.
In other Track & Field news, Croatian Sandra Perkovic only needed one throw to take the Gold in the Women’s Discus, again providing a clutch throw under real pressure. It was almost a carbon copy of her qualifying effort. Usain Bolt came out and cruised through his 200 metres heat, as, unfortunately, did drug cheat Justin Gatlin.
Earlier in the day Kenya’s David Rudisha became the fourth back to back Gold medal winner of the 800 metres, and the first since Peter Snell in 1964. It was another very strong performance, and ultimately won in a season’s best time of 1.42.15s.
In one of the most bizarre finishes in Olympic history, Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas defied physics in falling/tripping/diving over the line to snatch the Gold away from the USA’s Allyson Felix in the Women’s 400 metres final. The incident will provide an iconic image of Rio 2016.
In the Pole Vault, there was a major shock when defending Olympic Champion Renaud Lavillenie of France was beaten to the Gold medal by local hero Thiago Da Silva. The Brazilian appeared to out-psych the Frenchman by upping the height to 6.03m – Da Silva was up to the task and the Frenchman was left short. There was an even bigger shock when Japan’s Hiroki Ogita managed to clip the bar with his stiffy.
However, in a somewhat sour ending to the event, the local crowd (well, the handful that bothered to turn up anyway) persisted in booing Lavillenie during his final vault, who had done nothing other than try to match Da Silva’s efforts. It was very much against the Olympic spirit, and not the first time a Rio crowd have been guilty of poor behaviour – a similar incident happened during the gymnastics.
It was a pleasant surprise to wake up this morning to see Norway up against Sweden in the Women’s handball quarter final, won comprehensively 33-20 by the Norwegians. Enough said.
Sure, the timing is largely crap from our point of view, but I guess that’s why the likes of Olympic tragics like me take two weeks leave. So if you don’t have an opportunity to see something live throughout the schedule, I’ll be tweeting up a storm – most likely at some ungodly hour of the night. Keep an eye out: @keith_miller_nz