After five years’ wait, they’re finally here: the Tokyo 2020 (+1) Olympics. Prepare yourself for new sports, empty stands, expressions of solidarity, Covid cases, typhoons and a heatwave, and medal surprises. 

The 101 women of the New Zealand Olympic team are poised to explode out of the blocks on the world’s biggest sporting stage.

Technically, 18 of them already have – the Football Ferns opened New Zealand’s campaign on Wednesday night, going down 2-1 to arch-rivals, Australia’s Matildas.

Even though they didn’t get the win in what’s deemed to be the toughest pool of the competition, the team made a statement before the whistle even blew by taking a knee to support a global call for greater racial equality in sport.

Expect to see a lot of that over the next 17 days – athletes advocating for social justice, permitted under the new Olympic guidelines. 

Get ready for the hottest, and the strangest, Games in recent memory.

Team snapshot

This is the largest team New Zealand have ever sent to a Games – almost half are women (for the record, there are 110 men) and there’s one more female athlete than in the 2016 Rio team.

Of the 211 athletes representing Aotearoa across 21 sports, just over 30 percent are of Māori descent. New Zealand’s youngest competitor is 17-year-old swimmer Erika Fairweather and the most mature is 51-year-old equestrian jumper Bruce Goodin. 

See a full list of the New Zealand team here.

The Tokyo Lowdown

LockerRoom will bring you daily updates of the New Zealand women competing at the Olympics in The Tokyo Lowdown. We’ll highlight the Kiwi performances of the day, what may not have gone swimmingly well and we’ll let you know who to look for the next day. We’ll also feature colour stories from in and around the Games. You can keep up to date by subscribing to our free LockerRoom newsletter or by following LockerRoom on Facebook or Instagram

Medal predictions

If you want to be prepared for Olympic banter around the water-cooler, former Olympian and LockerRoom contributor Sarah Cowley Ross talks about how New Zealand may stack up in the medal tally and who to watch out for in this episode of The Detail.

There are eight female medallists from the Rio Olympics returning – silver trap shooter Natalie Rooney, Luuka Jones (silver in the women’s K1 slalom), Dame Valerie Adams (silver in shot put), sailors Alex Maloney and Molly Meech (silver in 49erFX), Lydia Ko (silver in golf), the Black Ferns Sevens (silver), and Lisa Carrington (gold and bronze in canoeing). 

Carrington could bring home four medals at these Games – a feat no other Kiwi has ever managed. 

Paddler Lisa Carrington has two golds and a bronze medal from the last two Olympic Games. Photo: Getty Images.

Our rowers are looking hot to collect medals, particularly the women’s eight, the reigning world champions (from 2019, before Covid-19 struck), and Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler in the pair. And the track cycling women also have a shot at adding to New Zealand’s tally.

Shot put queen Dame Valerie Adams has been tipped to lift her Olympic medal tally to four, after throwing some of her best distances since before she had her two children. 

Jonelle Price, the sole woman in the New Zealand three-day eventing team, will be in the running for an individual and team medal. With a proud history in eventing, the Kiwi team were fourth in Rio but bronze medallists in London four years earlier.

Regardless of her finish, Erica Dawson, deserves a medal – sailing in the Nacra 17 mixed multihull with Micah Wilkinson after breaking her leg in a training accident a month ago.

And of course, the world will be watching Laurel Hubbard in the women’s +87kg weightlifting class.

Opening ceremony

The Games opening ceremony is set for 11pm (NZT) and it’s drawing a lot of attention already – not so much for what the occasion usually means for athletes and the world. Or how much it costs. 

But because Tokyo is in a state of emergency and major sponsors are pulling out of the spectacle (Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was publicly ordered to attend by Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates after Brisbane was named the host city of the 2032 Games).

The pandemic has already watered down a ceremony that had promised to be a colourful celebration of Japanese pop culture.

The organising committee hope the power of sport will bring people around the globe together and provide hope and encouragement. But it’s anyone’s guess if these disrupted, stripped-back Games, and their theme “Moving Forward”, will provide that through this pinnacle event, wrapping up on Sunday August 8.

Only 20 or so New Zealand athletes are expected to march in the opening ceremony.

Sarah Hirini with the kākahu (cloak) she will wear carrying the flag of the NZ Olympic Team in Tokyo. Photo: Getty Images. 

This includes some of the sevens players, following their leader, Te Pou Hapai Wahine (female flag bearer) Sarah Hirini, who’s sharing the honour with rower Hamish Bond. Surfer Ella Williams is expected to be there in her first Olympics, with her code one of the four new sports introduced at these Games.

Not all of the New Zealand athletes will be there through until the end of the Games. Once they’ve competed, athletes have 48 hours to leave the Olympic Village, and move into a designated hotel to wait for the next available flight home. That means even athletes won’t be able to support their teammates. 

Atmosphere in Tokyo

Competitors have had an extra year to train but they’re going into an Olympics with no spectators, in the hottest season, and with a stack-load more health and safety protocols than they’ve ever witnessed at a sports event before. 

Only a small group of approved dignitaries, sponsors and staff will be in the stands but given some have decided to skip the opening ceremony, there may be more pressure for them to sit out completely.

The temperature will also play a big role in the way these Games unfold. Tokyo is experiencing sweltering heat and high humidity, with temperatures reaching well into the 30 degrees Celcius range. There’s also the threat of a typhoon hitting Tokyo too. 

New Zealand athletes have been preparing in the lead-up to the Games with creative training methods to help mirror heat conditions using saunas, heat chambers and layering up clothing.

But even the Sky Sport presenters are struggling, and they’re not even competing in this heatwave.

Rikki’s Pick

Each day in The Tokyo Lowdown, experienced Sky Sport presenter Rikki Swannell – at her third Olympics – will give her pick for the event to watch that day.

Today, it’s rower Emma Twigg, who’s rowing in the single sculls heats. 

“An earlier than usual start for rowing, means our first glimpse of Emma Twigg. I’m hard pressed to find an athlete who I’d love to see win a medal more than Twigg who was fourth in London and Rio.

“She retired after the Games in 2016, went overseas, got back in the boat and committed to putting herself through another campaign. A medal in Tokyo would be a testament to her perseverance and determination.”

Catch all the action

Want wall-to-wall Olympic coverage? Sky TV, New Zealand’s official Olympic broadcaster, has 12 Olympic channels with live content between noon and 2am (NZ time). And there’s also a 24-hour Olympic news channel for sport enthusiasts. You can track down the New Zealand performances you want to watch through the Sky Sport schedule.

TVNZ is the free-to-air partner and will offer 12 hours of action each afternoon and evening on One. And our own Cowley Ross will be providing insight and expertise as part of their broadcasting team.

If you’re in Auckland, another option to take in the action is the NZHQ at The Cloud, on the downtown waterfront. With no crowds allowed in Tokyo, the New Zealand Olympic Committee has set up the home venue for anyone to watch the NZ team compete alongside the athletes’ families and supporters.

Who’s up today:

Emma Twigg is rowing in her fourth Olympics in Tokyo. Photo: Getty Images. 

ROWING: Emma Twigg, single sculls heat, 1.20pm; Brooke Donoghue and Hannah Osborne, double sculls heat, 2pm; Olivia Loe, Eve Macfarlane, Georgia Nugent-O’Leary and Ruby Tew, quad heat, 2.50pm.

OPENING CEREMONY: Sarah Hirini carries the New Zealand flag, 11pm.  


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