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Pascoe spearheads NZ Paralympic gold hopes

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 6/09/2016

Sophie Pascoe © Getty Sophie Pascoe Paralympics New Zealand will turn to swimming for a hefty contribution when the pursuit of a record gold medal haul begins in Rio.

The national body has set a target of 12 golds at the 15th Summer Paralympics which begin with an opening ceremony on Thursday (NZT) followed by six Kiwis in competitive action a day later.

New Zealand's best return at any Games was nine golds at Atlanta in 1996.

The international form of numerous members of the 31-strong team has prompted an optimistic forecast from PNZ, which has received $12.7 million in High Performance Sport New Zealand funding over the last four years.

Of the six para-sports involving Kiwis in Rio, swimming harbours the most promise of success.

The sport banked 12 of New Zealand's 17 medals at the 2012 London Games, including five of the six golds.

Christchurch amputee Sophie Pascoe again carries weighty expectations. She won a New Zealand record-equalling three golds and three silvers in London, giving her 10 Paralympic career medals.

Given her dominance at last year's world championships in Glasgow, 23-year-old Pascoe is poised for further success, along with two other triumphant London swimmers, Mary Fisher and Cameron Leslie.

Another to watch in the pool could be Nikita Howarth, who was 13 when she swam in London, making her the youngest Kiwi Paralympian. She won two gold medals in Glasgow.

There are eight Kiwi athletes each in swimming, athletics and cycling, along with three sailors, three shooters and canoeist Scott Martlew.

Martlew and cyclist Fraser Sharp were late selections last week, with places having opened up following the suspension of Russian athletes.

New Zealand's overall medal target is 18, which would match the New Zealand Olympic record achieved in Rio in August.

Their record haul is 25, achieved in New York in 1984 - the last Paralympics held at a separate city from the same year's Olympics.

The Kiwis are in action on day one are swimmers Leslie, Howarth and Rebecca Dubber, along with athletes Liam Malone and Anna Grimaldi and track cyclist Kate Horan.

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