Enormously proud’: New Zealand celebrates greatest ever Olympics medal tally in Tokyo

New Zealand is basking in the glow of its greatest ever Olympic medal haul, departing Tokyo with 20 medals – seven gold, six silver and seven bronze, and a new champion, Lisa Carrington, who has become the country’s most decorated Olympic athlete.

The tally surpassed the previous record of 18 at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games, with medals won across 11 sports and women winning more than half of those. The country placed 13th overall on the medal table.

Water sports remain New Zealand’s forte across all Olympic Games – with rowing confirmed as the country’s most successful Olympic sport, followed by athletics, sailing and canoeing.

The minister for sport and recreation, Grant Robertson, praised the team for its historic performance on Sunday.

“I am enormously proud of our New Zealand athletes who rose above the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on their training schedules and competition cycles to deliver outstanding performances,” Robertson said.

Related: From $20 boots to Olympics rugby gold: New Zealand’s Ruby Tui on her rise to the top

Competing without friends and families on the sidelines would have made the games more challenging, but support staff on the ground helped to fill that absence, he said.

The team’s chef de mission, Rob Waddell, paid credit to all the team’s medallists, but also to other athletes who had arrived in Tokyo, often after unusually challenging journeys to qualify.

“While the medals are great, I’m proud of the entire team. I’d also like to acknowledge those who’ve done personal bests,” he said.

“You cannot ask more of an athlete than to turn up on the world’s biggest sports stage and perform up to and often beyond what they have achieved previously. We’ve seen that in so many sports where these things are measurable – swimming, diving, athletics, cycling, rowing, canoeing, weightlifting.”

Kayak sprint champion Lisa Carrington became New Zealand’s most medalled Olympic athlete, winning three gold medals and bringing her total medal total to six; five gold, one bronze.

Posting to social media, Carrington said never in her wildest dreams did she think a “dream so big” would come true.

“To represent Aotearoa is the greatest honour, and the older I get, the more I understand how much it means to wear the silver fern. It’s hard to find the words right now,” she said

It was not just New Zealand’s sporting prowess that hit the headlines. Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard broke new ground as the first transgender athlete to compete in the Olympics.

Black Ferns Sevens rugby player Ruby Tui also catapulted to international stardom after her candid post-match interviews went viral. The team went on to win their first ever Olympic gold.

The team of 222 athletes was New Zealand’s largest group yet and competed in more than 700 sessions.

New Zealand Olympic Committee president Mike Stanley acknowledged the athletes and their loved ones watching from home.

“Their support was an incredible part of the New Zealand Team’s success and we know our athletes will have inspired the next generation of Kiwi kids who get out and engage with sport from grassroots to high performance.”


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