Story: Olympic and Commonwealth games

Page 7. The early 21st century at the Olympics

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Triathlon triumphs

The triathlon was introduced to the Olympics at Sydney in 2000. New Zealander Hamish Carter won the gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics and compatriot Bevan Docherty won silver. Carter was 33 and some had wondered if he was past his best.

Docherty maintained New Zealand’s fine triathlon reputation at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, claiming bronze.

Rowing’s second golden era

In the 2000s New Zealand rowing entered a new golden era. The team’s success sprang from the coaching of Dick Tonks along with intense training at the rowing squad base on Lake Karapiro.

Single sculler Rob Waddell was the first to hit the jackpot with an Olympic gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The Evers-Swindell twins, Caroline and Georgina, won gold in the double sculls in 2004 and again in 2008.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics there were also bronze medals for single sculler Mahé Drysdale and coxless pair Nathan Twaddle and George Bridgewater.

New Zealand rowers triumphed at the 2012 London Olympics. Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan won New Zealand’s first gold medal for the 2012 games in the double sculls. The next day Hamish Bond and Eric Murray won gold in the men’s pair, followed within 45 minutes by Mahé Drysdale’s victory in the single sculls.

Juliette Haigh and Rebecca Scown had earlier opened the rowers’ score with a bronze in the women’s pair. The rowing medal tally was finally topped up by bronze for Storm Uru and Peter Taylor in the men’s lightweight double sculls.

‘Super Saturday’

On Saturday August 16 New Zealand won five medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and journalists dubbed it ‘Super Saturday’. Georgina and Caroline Evers-Swindell defended their double sculls title, winning gold by 0.01 seconds. Single sculler Mahé Drysdale, battling a debilitating virus, won bronze, while Nathan Twaddle and George Bridgewater won bronze in the coxless pair. Cyclist Hayden Roulston won silver in the individual pursuit, and Valerie Vili (later Adams) won gold in the shot put with a throw of 20.56 metres.

Beijing, 2008

Beijing provided New Zealand with one of its better Olympic medal hauls. As well as the victories in triathlon and rowing, Valerie Vili (later Adams) won gold in the shot put and Tom Ashley claimed New Zealand’s third gold medal of the games in the men’s sailboard.

New Zealand cyclists Hayden Roulston, Jesse Sergent, Marc Ryan and Sam Bewley won bronze in the team pursuit. Roulston made it a double by winning silver in the individual pursuit.

Runner Nick Willis continued the New Zealand 1,500-metres tradition by winning bronze. Later, with the December 2009 disqualification of Bahraini gold medallist Rashid Ramzi after a positive drugs test, Willis’s medal was upgraded to silver.

Silver turns to gold

Shot putter Valerie Adams defended her Olympic title at London but was up against outstanding throwing from her rival Nadzeya Ostapchuk from Belarus. Adams’s best throw of 20.70 metres could not match Ostapchuk, who made four throws over 21 metres with a best of 21.36 metres. While saying she was proud to win a silver medal for New Zealand, Adams admitted disappointment at not retaining her title. Within hours of the Olympic closing ceremony, Ostapchuk tested positive for the performance-enhancing steroid metenolone. The Belarusian was disqualified and Adams was awarded her second Olympic shot-put gold.

London calling – the 2012 Olympics

The 2012 London Olympics ended with New Zealand winning six gold medals, the highest tally since the Los Angeles games in 1984. As well as the rowers’ three golds, Lisa Carrington, victor in the K1 200-metres race, became the first New Zealand woman to win an Olympic kayaking gold medal; Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie won gold in the 470-class sailing competition; and Valerie Adams was awarded the shot-put gold after the disqualification of Belarussian athlete Nadzeya Ostapchuk.

Sarah Walker won silver for New Zealand in the women’s BMX cycling, while Peter Burling and Blair Tuke added to the sailing medals with silver in the men’s 49er class.

New Zealand’s first medal at London was a bronze in the equestrian three-day event for Andrew Nicholson, Jock Paget, Caroline Powell, Jonelle Richards and Mark Todd. New Zealand cyclists won two more bronze medals: Sam Bewley, Marc Ryan, Jesse Sergent, Aaron Gate and Westley Gough came third in the men’s team pursuit, while Simon van Velthooven gained bronze in the men’s keirin.

Fair Play

The International Fair Play Committee bestowed the Rio 2016 Fair Play Award on New Zealander Nikki Hamblin and American Abbey d’Agostino after the pair collided and fell during their heat of the women’s 5,000 metres and then helped each other to finish.

Rio de Janeiro, 2016

New Zealand ended the Rio games with a record total of 18 medals. The country achieved the most in water sports, winning 10 medals across rowing, sailing and canoeing. Mahé Drysdale, Lisa Carrington, and the team of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray all successfully defended the Olympic titles they had won in 2012. Carrington also picked up a bronze in the K1 500m, making her the first New Zealand woman to win two medals at the same games.

New Zealand continued its Olympic success in athletics with Valerie Adams and Tom Walsh picking up silver and bronze medals respectively in the shot put, runner Nick Willis a bronze medal in the 1,500 metres, and 19-year-old Eliza McCartney a bronze medal in the pole vault.

New Zealand also won silver medals in rugby sevens and golf – the former introduced as an Olympic sport at Rio and the latter making its first appearance since 1904. The women’s sevens team lost the final against Australia, while Lydia Ko came second in golf. 

How to cite this page:

Joseph Romanos, 'Olympic and Commonwealth games - The early 21st century at the Olympics', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 January 2022)

Story by Joseph Romanos, published 5 Sep 2013, reviewed & revised 16 Sep 2016