The greatest day?
Saturday, August 16, 2008. It has been called the greatest day in New Zealand sport, and certainly the greatest day in our Olympic sports history.
How great was it?
Well, we won five Olympic medals, two of them of a goldish tint, and that takes some beating.
I know Michael Phelps does that sort of thing routinely, but for New Zealand to jump from nowhere to 14th equal in the medal table, and ahead of Georgia, Spain, Canada, Brazil, Sweden and the rest of them was some feat.
Many brilliant New Zealand stories emerged during the day.
The Evers-Swindell twins, once so dominant in double sculls rowing, and now written off as past their best, turned back the clock with a display of flawless rowing and impeccable temperament.
It was amazing that in a 2000m race, they led only in the final centimetre. They led the race for only one one-hundredth of a second, but it was the most crucial one one-hundredth.
The twins now stand alongside Peter Snell, Mark Todd and Ian Ferguson/Paul MacDonald as the only New Zealanders to successfully defend an Olympic crown.
That puts them in pretty exclusive company.
Then there was Valerie Vili, shrugging off the mantle of favouritism to dominate the women’s shot put. She needed only one throw to lead the qualifiers, and nailed her winning effort in her first throw of the finals. She dominated her opposition mentally, physically, in skill and on the scoreboard. It was a champion performance.
Mahe Drysdale, the New Zealand team captain, and the big man of the rowing team for so long, was really deprived of the chance to win the single sculls gold medal by the debilitating illness he battled all week. It speaks volumes for his grit that he forced himself to a bronze medal, even though, as he admitted later, he really couldn’t remember the final 15 strokes of his race.
At the press conference the following day, he was given every chance to make excuses, to express bitterness or regret, but he never did. I admired him hugely for his attitude.
Hayden Roulston retired two years ago because of a dodgy heart that, he was told, could put his life in jeopardy if he continued to race. Now he’s back and he shook up the individual pursuit field at the velodrome, eventually bowing only to the fabulous British rider Bradley Wiggins while picking up the silver medal, the third cycling medal ever won at an Olympics by a New Zealander.
The fifth medal, a bronze, went to George Bridgewater and Nathan Twaddle in the men’s pair. They were slightly disappointed afterwards that bronze hadn’t been gold, or at least silver, but when you look around at the carnage at the rowing – world champions and favourites that either did not make finals or finished down the track – a bronze medal was not to be sneezed at.
So five medals. Our greatest day?
In the old days, we measured ourselves by the athletics track. So Jack Lovelock, Peter Snell, Murray Halberg and John Walker are special to us. Snell and Halberg won gold medals at Rome within an hour, and we never thought the feelings of that day would be repeated.
But it is an indication of New Zealand’s growing influence in a range of sports that we won five medals on Saturday over three sports. We are contenders in a wider range of sports these days – sailing, equestrian, canoeing, swimming, triathlon and hockey all began these Olympics with genuine medal hopes, quite apart from rowing, cycling and athletics.
The most medals we’d won previously in one day was in Seoul in 1988, when we won four bronzes – three rowing and butterfly swimmer Anthony Mosse.
It depends how you rate it, but I’m happy to argue that Saturday, August 16 was our greatest Olympic day.
for more info on the New Zealand team click HERE