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Olympic team aims to leave mark on Rio

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 28/07/2016

Valerie Adams

Valerie Adams
© Getty Images

On paper, New Zealand could be set for its most successful Olympics ever.

But no medals are ever won on paper.

And no New Zealand Olympians have gone into a Games with the threat of the mosquito-borne Zika virus buzzing in their heads.

A target of a record-breaking 14 medals or more in Brazil was set by High Performance Sport New Zealand shortly after they left London four years ago with six golds among the 13 medals in their suitcases.

But some predictions think that'll be short of the mark when their Games get under way in just under a week's time.

Gracenote Sport's virtual Olympic medal table has New Zealand scooping seven golds and 25 medals in all, while Luciano Barra - an Italian expert - expects 10 golds and 18 medals.

HPSNZ's boss Alex Baumann is steadfastly sticking to their target, tempering expectations and saying the goal remains realistic and aspirational.

But the addition of rugby sevens and golf, with Lydia Ko as the world's No.1 woman, and recent world championship success in rowing, cycling, sailing and canoe sprint has others looking at what could be.

"This is a team that has the potential of no other Olympic team," Olympic chef de mission Rob Waddell told media heading to the Games.

A team of around 200 athletes will represent the country in Rio, which has been beset by budget woes, political instability and the threat posed by the Zika virus.

No New Zealand athletes have withdrawn from the team because of concerns over the disease, and the New Zealand Olympic Committee is keeping them updated with the latest advice.

The threat is far from the mind of leading medal hope Ko.

"I'm more excited about the Olympics, about the ceremony, about just being in that Olympic vibe than worrying about the Zika virus," the 19-year-old said.

Concerns over pollution at the sailing venue and the risk of street crime have also complicated matters but a unique endeavour by the NZOC is aiming to share the Olympic spirit with a local community.

They are partnering with the Mangueria favela to provide the 45,000-strong community with a lasting legacy long after the Olympics sideshow has left the country.

Normally a no-go area for visitors, the tie-in with the underprivileged favela's social programme will see New Zealand athletes visit the community to provide coaching, clothing and equipment.

Waddell believes they are the only team to form such a relationship and sees both parties benefiting from it.

"It's about bringing the spirit of the Olympic Games and New Zealand to kids who may not experience it.

"We think there'll be a performance benefit for athletes.

"I think it is going to be a a very positive experience," he said.

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