By Keith Miller
As we head towards the end of Rio 2016, a bit of excitement towards the end of the tournament was always going to be welcomed with open arms. Today it was Nick Willis providing the entertainment for a NZ audience in the Men’s 1500 metre final, as Lydia Ko fought hard for silver in the Women’s Golf.
Picked as a smokey for a medal by some of the more enlightened amongst us , Willis, the 33 year old Beijing silver medallist, had been pacing his races extremely well during the qualification and semi-final, in an obvious attempt at keeping plenty in the tank for the final. Starting off at an incredibly slow pace, the final itself was a fairly rugged affair, and when Willis was boxed in around 200 metres out, it looked as though any chance of a medal may be slipping.
However, Willis managed to force his way into the open, and – as he did in the earlier stages of the event – stormed home powerfully to capture the bronze medal. Considering the strength of the field, it was a huge achievement. Willis created two pieces of history in the process. Not only did he become the oldest medallist in Olympic 1500 metre history, but, despite NZ’s longstanding success in the event, became the first from his country to receive two medals in the 1500 metres.
The silver medal-a-thon continued for New Zealand, with Lydia Ko battling hard. She had a chance to push Inbee Park hard early on, but her inability to hole important putts meant that Park stormed to a large lead and never really looked threatened.
Despite not quite being at her best, Ko was still good enough to hold off the challenge from Shanshan Feng and keep hold of the silver. In typical Ko fashion, she held her nerve on the 18th green and sealed it with an eight foot putt (just). The nature of golf means that picking a winner can become a lottery at times – bearing that in mind, a silver medal was a great result.
The Women’s K4 500 team (above) did very well to finish 5th behind the usual powerhouses in the final. Jaimee Lovett, Kayla Imrie, Aimee Fisher and Caitlin Ryan looked good for the first 200 metres or so, but faded a little amongst the strong, and far more experienced, crews. Being a young crew that has only been together for 18 months, they appear to have a very bright future in front of them.
There was disappointment in the Women’s Triathlon, with a 7th place for Andrea Hewitt and a 13th place for Nicky Samuels. To be fair, it’s been an incredibly difficult 12 months for Hewitt, and the fact she was even able to start the race was an achievement in itself. After a 6th place finish in London, she will have been looking to Rio as a medal hope – at 34 she may have run her last Olympic triathlon.
New Zealand’s last competitor at Rio in 2016 is Mountain Biker is Sam Gaze, who starts from the third line at 03:30am on Sunday morning. He is ranked 27th in the world at present by the UCI, and at the age of 20, he is probably a better prospect at Tokyo in 2020.
But whilst a medal for Gaze would be considered somewhat of a surprise, we’ve seen plenty of those from youngsters in the New Zealand team at Rio.
Tomorrow I’ll provide a wrap of Rio, and hand out some totally useless awards that will mean absolutely nothing to anyone.
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