Sports Call – Close to 200 athletes will represent New Zealand at the Rio Olympics shortly and a lucky few will reach that achievement before they even make their twenties.

At one end of the spectrum, one of New Zealand’s oldest and most accomplished Olympians – Sir Mark Todd – is competing in his eighth games – a national record.

At the other end of the dial, a handful of athletes, who are still in their teens, are competing in their first Olympics, hoping to achieve similar feats to that of Sir Mark.

Spearheading the teen charge is one of New Zealand’s brightest medal hopefuls – the number one women’s golfer, Lydia Ko.

Ko has been in hot form this year, winning four times on the LPGA Tour and producing a further top 10 finishes.

The 19-year-old has been a big campaigner for golf’s re-inclusion at the Olympics, which is making its first appearance in 112 years.

She said, while a number of her top male counterparts were pulling out, being an Olympic athlete was a dream come true.

“Obviously golf is a very individual sport, I think to be in that place where you are amongst other athletes, not just golfers, I think it’s definitely going to be a different feeling.”

The Olympics’ other new sport, rugby sevens, will also feature a New Zealand teenager – Reiko Ioane.

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The 18-year-old has been a part of the New Zealand sevens team for three years and is regarded as one of the quickest players in world rugby.

His brother Akira, 21, is also part of the team, and Reiko said they never expected to become Olympians through playing rugby.

“Being an Olympian, you only think you can do that if you’re a track athlete mainly but other than that I thought I had no chance.

“When sevens was named in the Olympics I instantly thought that’s what I want to do, I’m still young, I’ve still got a lot of years ahead of me so I’m looking forward to the experience.”

New Zealand’s first ever competitor in the trampoline, Dylan Schmidt, is just 19.

But it is his fellow gymnast, Courtney McGregor, who takes the title as New Zealand’s youngest Olympian for 2016 – for she will be 17 when competing in the artistic gymnastics event at Rio.

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McGregor is still two years older than New Zealand’s youngest ever Olympian, swimmer Rebecca Perrot, who competed at the 1976 Montreal Games.

She has spent the last couple of months training in Boise in the United States on a university scholarship and said despite three years of groundwork, it was only just sinking in that she had made the team.

“I think it’s definitely starting to feel a lot more real now, especially being away from home, I don’t think it really hit me until we started organising our kit and our sizing and things like that, yes it’s getting really real now.”

New Zealand diver Lizzie Cui, like McGregor, is studying in America while training on the diving platform.

Cui is studying chemistry and business management and hopes to work for a cosmetic company following her diving career.

In the meantime she is focussed on doing her best in the black colours in Rio but admits she got to the Olympics four years earlier than expected.

“I mean I would love to make finals in my first Olympics, the goal has always been 2020 (Tokyo) and to be able to go to 2016 as that stepping stone and that experience before the 2020 where I feel like I’ll be at my peak… if I made finals I would be over the moon.”

Another teenager representing New Zealand has had a steady rise in her sport over the past 18 months.

At the end of last year, Eliza McCartney made headlines for breaking the world junior pole vault record, clearing 4.64m.

This year she extended her New Zealand record when she vaulted 4.8m – a height that has only been beaten by eight other athletes this season.

McCartney’s Olympic goal is to make the 12-woman final, but said her first challenge would be getting her four and a half metre pole into the plane’s carry on.

“Yes so that’s a bit of an issue, a lot of the time we struggle and we have had a few issues flying.

“Most planes can take them, most of the time it’s all good, we get them on the flight okay but often you do turn up and your poles aren’t there and that is quite a problem because you can’t pole vault without them.”

While getting her equipment to Rio may be an issue, McCartney and the rest of New Zealand’s teenage athletes all agree being part of the Olympics is a dream come true.

 

 

 

From: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/sport/310260/nz-backs-teen-spirit-for-rio

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