Papamoa‘s Sarah Hirini - “inspirational figure”

Sarah Harini and her Black Ferns sevens celebrate winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics. Photos: NZ Olympics Team.

Papamoa's Sarah Hirini led from the front as the New Zealand women’s sevens rugby team won the Olympic gold medal yesterday.

The New Zealanders outplayed France 26-12 in the final to win the gold that eluded them in Rio five years ago, when they lost the final to Australia.

Sarah was an inspirational figure throughout the tournament, and never more than in the final. It was a good break by her that led to Michaela Blyde scoring New Zealand’s first try – and her seventh of the tournament - and she was a constant thorn in the French defence.

After being pushed right to their limit to beat Fiji in extra time in the semi-final, New Zealand had a more comfortable time of it in the final.

France had some talented athletes, most particularly Anna Cecil Ciofani, who scored one try, but they were generally well contained by the tigerish New Zealand defence.

After France pulled it back to 7-5 with a try to Caroline Drouin, Gayle Broughton responded well, making use of limited space down the left to score.

On the tick of halftime Stacey Fluhler broke French hearts by running hard and straight and splitting the French defence to score under the posts and stretch the lead to 19-5.

In the second half there was the Ciofani, but Tyla Nathan-Wong, who had a very energetic game, responded with some quick work near the French line to dart over for New Zealand’s fourth try, which she converted.

Though they won the final well, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the New Zealanders. Britain led them 21-0 in a pool match and Fiji must still be asking themselves how they lost the semi-final.

But the New Zealand team has a special spirit, as Hirini alluded to afterwards.

“There’s a special bond between us,” says Sarah. “Our team have been through a lot over the last five years. It was our mission to bring home the gold and I could not be more proud. This is a very special group; we’re like family.”

Medalist Schmidt breaks new ground
New Zealand’s Olympic efforts broke new barriers yesterday when men’s trampolinist Dylan Schmidt beat several highly rated European athletes to win a bronze medal.

Schmidt’s third placing was no flash in the pan, either.

He showed what he was capable of in the qualifying section, when his two efforts netted him scores of 52.415 and 59.705 for a total of 112.120. That placed him third in qualifying behind two formidable Belarusians, Ivan Litvinovich and Uladzislau Hancharou.

The final – just one performance – was run in reverse order.

The fourth competitor, China’s Dong Dong, recorded 61.235 and took the lead. Schmidt was the sixth competitor and he turned in an athletic, controlled performance that earned him a score of 60.675, which meant at that moment he was lying in second.

It was a tricky time for New Zealand fans, and for the 24-year-old Schmidt.

There were just two competitors left, the Belarusians who had topped the qualifying section.
If they both went well, Schmidt would be out of the medals. If they both went badly, he’d have silver.

First up was Hancharou and he was awarded 60.565 – Schmidt was definitely among the medals, but silver or bronze?

Litvinovich, the final trampolinist, gave a masterful display and was rewarded with a score of 61.175. Dong slipped down to second and Schmidt to third.

This is the first Olympic medal New Zealand has won in trampolining, which comes under the banner of gymnastics at the Games. It is the first Olympic medal New Zealand has won in any form of gymnastics.

Schmid, now living in Auckland, was introduced to trampolining when he was growing up in Te Anau. The sport is certainly in the family – his brother and sister are both international competitors.

In 2016, Schmidt, aged only 19, became the first New Zealander to compete in trampolining at the Olympics and he acquitted himself very well, with a seventh placing. He had hinted at his potential when winning a gold medal at the 2014 Youth Olympics and in the senior ranks has also shown he can foot it with the world’s best while competing at world champs, where three times he has placed in the top 15.

But all that is a far cry from winning a medal at the Olympics and now Schmidt has joined those illustrious ranks.

Sailors start to eye medals
New Zealand moved closer to a couple of medals at the Olympic sailing events yesterday.

Nothing is guaranteed in the unpredictable world of international sailing, but Peter Burling and Blair Tuke in the men’s 49er and Josh Junior in the men’s finn did their medal chances no harm with some fine work yesterday.

Tuke and Burling, the defending Olympic champions, shared top position on the points table before today’s racing. They then put together finishes of 5, 2 (when they led most of the race) and 11 to grab the lead outright with only the medal race remaining.

The New Zealanders are on 52 points, while in second place on 56 are Britons Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell and Spaniards Iago Lopez Marra and Diego Botin le Chever.

Josh Junior clearly enjoyed his day off from racing the day before because he returned looking refreshed and eager. He won the first race of the day and was 4th  in the second. There are two races plus the medal race left in the finn competition and Junior sits in fifth place with 38 points. The 19-strong fleet is led by Briton Giles Scott on 20, but Junior is only nine points off third place.

“It was an important day for me,” says Josh. “I haven’t had too many goon ones here so it was time to start racking up a few good placings to get me closer to the medals.”

He says he had tried to be more proactive and make good decisions, and had been helped by a couple of slices of luck that went his way.

“I just want to lock in two good races tomorrow so I can go into the medal race with a real chance of winning a medal.”

The women’s 49er team of Alex Maloney and Molly Meech, silver medallists in Rio five years ago, had a mixed day with placings of 6, 20 and 6, which leaves them lying 12th in the fleet of 21 with one race plus the medal race to go.

It was a similarly mixed bag for the Nacra crew of Micah Wilkinson and Erica Dawson, whose three races today produced placings of 15, 9 and 18, leaving them 12th overall in the fleet of 20.

Hockey women into quarters
New Zealand were beaten 2-1 by China today, but still advanced to the women’s hockey quarter-finals.

The New Zealanders were fairly assured of progressing, as long as they did not allow in a flood of goals.

From the New Zealand pool, Australia, Argentina and Spain were the top three finishers and New Zealand finished level with China, advancing on goal difference.

In the quarter-finals on Monday, New Zealand faces the Netherlands or Germany, the top teams from the other pool.

China dominated the New Zealanders yesterday. It showed in the statistics, where they had 22 shots at goal to New Zealand’s 10, and 13 penalty corners to New Zealand’s 3. The Chinese had far more possession and made twice as many attacking incursions into the opposition circle.

China also had several referral decisions for goals go against them. They looked more potent for most of the match.

The Chinese forced a succession of penalty corners in the early stages of the game, but New Zealand scored first when Ella Gunson converted a penalty corner in the 20th minute. They weren’t ahead long - China equalised in the 24th minute with a goal to Liu Meng.

In the 37th minute China’s Yang Chen finally converted a penalty corner to take the lead, but on the stroke of 45 minutes Rose Keddell pulled the New Zealanders level again with a nicely taken field shot that she slotted to her left.

China had much the better of the final quarter but managed only one goal, to Liang Melyu.

The New Zealanders were certainly given a thorough test – goalie Grace O’Hanlon saw three goals go past her but made eight saves and was generally sharp and effective.

They will want to regroup before their quarter-final and certainly they will want to make better use of the tine they are in possession of the ball.

Weightlifter at his best
New Zealand weightlifter Cam McTaggart lifted as well as he could have hoped yesterday in the B group of the 81kg category.

Auckland-based McTaggart succeeded with 135kg and 140kg in the snatch, but missed at 145kg. In the clean and jerk he succeeded with 170kg and 175kg but missed at 178. McTaggart, 23, should be well pleased with not only his personal best total but also his best individual lift in the two categories.

His total of 315kg was solid and placed him third of the four competitors in the B group. The top 10 lifters in the 81kg division will be in action later in the day.

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