Tokyo Olympics: Age no problem for some New Zealand competitors
Age is proving to be merely a number for New Zealand’s most experienced athletes competing at the Tokyo Olympics.
For several of the 211-strong team, the Games in Japan will be their fourth or fifth time at the world’s biggest sporting event.
That included two-time medallist Nick Willis, who was just a fresh-faced university student when he first stood on the Olympic start line in Athens.
Seventeen years on, the 1500m star will have many more miles under his belt as he hits the track in Tokyo for his Games swansong.
But Willis admitted all that experience, couldn’t prevent a nervy few weeks securing qualification – eventually claiming the 45th and final place in the field.
“Had I not been focussing on peaking for the Games I would’ve had no problem getting the points earlier on in April and May.
“I’d skipped those things, thinking that I’d outsmarted the system but it turned out I was completely wrong. I was a little embarrassed about that, so I was very relieved [to get in].”
Willis wasn’t the country’s only athletics legend making their fifth Games appearance in Japan.
Tokyo could also be an Olympic farewell for two-time champion shot putter Dame Valerie Adams.
Now a 36-year-old mother of two, Adams appeared a good chance of a fourth Games medal.
While reaching the podium would be more challenging for Willis, the 38-year-old remained determined to bow out on a high note.
“I want to give myself a really good shot of making the final.
“If I make the final that’s top 12 in the world and that’d be an incredible achievement. It would be as satisfying as getting on the podium in other years.
“It’s going to be a very hard task but there’s a chance.”
For another veteran of the New Zealand team, a medal was absolutely the target.
Rower Emma Twigg was back again after three unsuccessful cracks at the Olympic podium.
The 34-year-old single sculler has headed to Tokyo with no lack of motivation.
“That’s something that every athlete dreams of, is standing on the podium at the Olympics.
“It’s still very much my dream but the Olympics is a funny game and you can’t expect to just be going and winning medals, you’ve got to have everything else line up.
“I just hope that I can fulfil the potential that I know that I have.”
But Twigg said that desire for success was not her primary driver, after she retired in the wake of the 2016 Rio Games and had two years out of the sport.
“It’s more about returning and making sure that I could walk away with my head held high about the performance that I had and that I’d ticked every box leading into it and I had no regrets.
“I feel pretty confident in that, to this point, and now it’s the matter of having some of the best races I can. If I do that then I’ll be in a great position.”
That ability to be better than last time was perhaps the key advantage for those New Zealanders with multiple Olympics on their resumes.
Tokyo would also be the fifth Games for showjumper Bruce Goodin, the oldest athlete on the New Zealand team.
The 51-year-old Sweden-based rider said he had taken plenty from his first four appearances.
“You know what it takes to perform at them. You try and become more and more professional. More attention to detail.
“Hopefully you can eradicate mistakes you’ve made at previous Olympics.”
Nick Willis, meanwhile, was adamant he would be relishing his last outing on sport’s biggest stage.
And as he got set to become just the second 1500m runner in history to compete in five Olympics, he said being able to achieve that feat had brought him full circle.
“The first time I went to the Games it was all about qualifying, and now it’s been the same for the final one.
“There’s a lot less pressure and it’s not just about doing the business and making sure I get on the podium but actually getting to enjoy the whole process.
“Especially with young [New Zealand 1500m runner] Sam Tanner going. It’s nice that I get to share that experience with him.”
Willis, Adams and the rest of New Zealand’s Olympic veterans – ready to show the way for the country’s Games stars of the future.
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