New Zealand chef de mission Rob Waddell is bringing to a close one of the most challenging Olympic campaigns in history but with it has come plenty of timeless moments and chances to reflect.
Waddell and the New Zealand team leave the Tokyo Olympics with our most medals in a single Games, having claimed 20 in the form of seven golds, six silvers and seven bronzes to rank 13 th in the medal table.
But it wasn’t just about the medals with this year’s delayed Olympics still having to deal with the global Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions that came with it.
Waddell told Breakfast the campaign, his second as an Olympic chef de mission, has been extraordinary.
"When we came into the Games, the message to the athletes was that this was going to be a very different Games experience but it's still going to be an amazing Games experience,” Waddell said.
Covid-19 meant there were no fans or families in the stands and time in the athletes’ village was restricted and fleeting.
Waddell said it wasn’t all bad though.
"There's so many things that have been different about the last few weeks but it has been an absolute privilege,” he said.
"I think, because we haven't had our friends and whānau over here with us, it has been a really tight-knit team feeling and we've all drawn a lot of inspiration from each other's success."
Triumphs and differing tales
Each of New Zealand’s 20 medals have a story to them, whether it be Lisa Carrington’s golden run or the Black Fern Sevens’ Rio redemption.
"There have been [a lot of stories],” Waddell said.
“You could pick any [medallist] and talk with a lot of emotion about just how much it's meant not only to those athletes but their friends and families and also to New Zealand.”
One stuck out for the former rower though with Emma Twigg finally claiming an Olympic gold after heartbreak in London and Rio.
"I loved her quote, 'persistence beats resistance',” Waddell said.
“What better example could you have?”
Waddell said there weren’t just 20 stories to emerge from New Zealand’s campaign though.
"I think it's as much the athletes who didn't get the medals that I found as fascinating and exciting for New Zealand's future because there were some incredible performances - the men's football team did so well, the girls did too and the hockey teams, they're all so close and I think that's what I've enjoyed seeing ... the gaps are so small now."
Waddell said he was also surprised with the diversity of sports when it came to New Zealand's medals in Tokyo.
"All those medals were across 11 different sports which is a great thing for New Zealand because it's not just one sport that's delivering.
"What Dylan Schmidt did in trampolining, what David Nyika did in boxing - those show a pathway for other young kids in New Zealand who might be able to follow in those footsteps and achieve at the same sort of level."
David v Goliath
Despite a population of just five million, New Zealand managed to finish just outside the top 10 while placing higher than populous nations such as South Korea, Mexico and Turkey.
Waddell said he feels there were a few reasons why Aotearoa shone in Japan.
"A few things that come to mind is; one, we've got some really good people in our systems doing good things and it starts with people,” Waddell said.
"The second thing is we're very collaborative. We work together well and we're big enough that we can do that but not so big that we're clumsy and even here at the Games, a lot of the sports work together and come together, sharing information and talking.
“Back in the old days, we were thinking, 'I wonder what the USA did to get that gold medal', but you can actually now talk to other people in the sporting system who have had success.
"The third thing is there has been some really good targetted funding of sports that we haven't seen like boxing or trampoline and other campaigns where there's been support over one or two Games and bingo, there's been some great success come out of it."
Waddell said he’s felt lucky over the last few months to be in the role he’s in and can’t wait to see what comes next with the Commonwealth Games just around the corner too.
“What I’ve really enjoyed is the people around me,” he said.
“It’s been a lot of fun how we’ve come together as a team to produce something bigger than what we might have done individually.”