2021 in review: NZ makes history in unforgettable Olympics campaign

Source: 1News

The second half of 2021 has been such a blur that New Zealand’s brilliant Olympic campaign seems like a distant memory.

The Tokyo Games were New Zealand’s most successful in terms of overall medals, finishing with 20, two more than our previous best, achieved five years ago in Rio.

Lisa Carrington becomes the G.O.A.T

Lisa Carrington won three gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics.

There was no Kiwi athlete more hyped heading to Tokyo than our star kayaker Lisa Carrington, but boy did she live up to the hype.

Already a two-time gold medallist, Carrington arrived in Japan as far and away the world’s best female canoe sprinter.

Yet there were some concerns that she may have bitten off more than she could chew, having entered four events in a packed schedule that saw her race twice a day for almost an entire week.

We needn’t have worried.

Carrington won three golds in as many days to surpass fellow kayaker Ian Ferguson as New Zealand’s most decorated Olympian.

While fatigue eventually caught up with her in the K4 500m, the 32-year-old's performance will go down as the greatest ever Olympic performance by a Kiwi athlete.

It left her nan lost for words, while students at her old Whakatāne school cheered her home the whole way.

Dame Valerie Adams signs off in style

Dame Valerie Adams after winning bronze at the Tokyo Olympics.

It was a big five years between Rio and Tokyo for Dame Valerie.

She became a mum to two children – daughter Kimoana and son Kepaleli - with husband Gabriel Price. Kepaleli was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2020 when he was just 15 months old.

Motherhood became her priority during the gap between the Olympics, putting shot put on the backburner while she raised her children.

Such is her brilliance though that she still claimed a silver medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and snared bronze at the Tokyo Olympics to walk off into the sunset with four Olympic medals and a sensational career spanning two decades.

Upon winning bronze, Adams said she kept looking into the stands and imagining her children watching her compete, as would’ve been the case had the Covid-19 pandemic not stopped crowds from attending.

Instead, Dame Valerie carried a photo of her children attached to a lanyard so they could be a part of the experience, breaking down in tears as she proudly told 1News how her children had given her the power to throw far and claim bronze.

Her time in Tokyo wasn’t over though, as Adams remained in the Japanese capital as coach for her sister Lisa at the Paralympics.

Dame Valerie Adams embraces her younger sister Lisa Adams after she wins gold in the shot put at the Tokyo Paralympics.

Lisa won gold, embraced her sister and sealed a momentous month for the Adams family.

Rowing squad pull in record medal haul

Emma Twigg reacts after winning gold.

New Zealand’s rowing squad had made headlines in the build-up to the Games for controversially changing combinations and dropping two-time gold medallist Mahe Drysdale from the squad.

However, any concerns quickly became a distant memory as our rowers went on to achieve the best single-Games performance from a New Zealand rowing squad, winning three golds and two silver medals.

That was headlined by a shock victory by the men’s eight, who had barely qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in the first place, and the amazing perseverance of Emma Twigg, who put fourth place finishes in London and Rio behind her to storm to her first Olympic gold medal.

Tennis duo achieve the impossible

Michael Venus and Marcus Daniell celebrate a victory at the Tokyo Olympics.

Us Kiwis are not renowned for our tennis ability and there was absolutely nothing expected of doubles pair Michael Venus and Marcus Daniell when they took to the court in Tokyo.

Only one Kiwi doubles pair had ever passed the first round at the Olympics - Bruce Derlin and Kelly Everden in 1988 – prior to Venus and Daniell doing so in Tokyo.

But they didn’t stop there, and what was a feel-good moment soon become one of the greatest underdog stories of the entire Games.

In what seemed like a blink of an eye the pair were playing in the semi-finals, with a medal beckoning.

They finally met their match there, falling to Croatian pair Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig in straight sets.

Disappointed, Venus and Daniell went straight to the training courts where they worked on their game well into the evening.

It paid off in the bronze medal game, where they swept aside American duo Austin Krajicek and Tennys Sandgren in straight sets.

Daniell broke down with emotion upon winning the match, later telling 1News he had considered retiring from the sport prior to the Olympics.

Hayden Wilde embodies Kiwi spirit

Hayden Wilde displays his bronze medal after the men's triathlon in Tokyo.

New Zealand’s first medal in Tokyo came out of nowhere, with triathlete Hayden Wilde putting in a stellar performance in humid conditions to claim bronze.

But it was the moments after the race that Kiwis will remember the most.

First, Wilde came to the aide of stricken winner Kristian Blummenfelt.

Blummenfelt was struggling to get to his feet after his victory, using up all his energy in a final-leg burst that saw him claim gold for Norway.

After crossing the line in third place, Wilde rushed to help Blummenfelt, getting him to his feet with the help of an official.

In a heart-warming moment, Wilde then paid tribute to his late father, bursting into tears as he prepared for an interview, the gravitas of the moment setting in.

His father had passed away 12 years prior and had never had the chance to see Wilde race.