Saturday, August 16th was quite a day for Kiwi sporting enthusiasts. After several heartbreaking Olympic performances, including several 4th place finishes, the Kiwis finally struck gold (twice), and the All Blacks, the New Zealand National Rugby team took it to the South Africans 19-0 in a Tri-Nations match.
Let's start with the heartbreak. Certainly NBC back home has covered every Michael Phelps race, so perhaps you noticed that during the 200 meter butterfly, Phelps was in second place after 100 meters. The leader was none other than Moss Burmester from New Zealand. Moss was still in second at the 150 mark, but faded to 4th by the end of the race. It was heartbreaking to watch, especially considering he was the greatest swimming medal hope for the Kiwis. But the good news is that he set a Commonwealth record (not just for New Zealand, but for all of Great Britain and the former colonies), and smashed his personal best by over a full second.
The Equestrian team finished fifth. In rowing, Emma Twig failed to make her final after finishing fourth in the semi-final of her single sculls event. This was shocking and depressing as some thought a medal was clearly possible, and the finals a shoo-in. Then yesterday, Rob Waddell and Nathan Cohen finished fourth by just a second in their rowing event, and Kiwi nation hung their heads low. But the day had just begun.
Three-time world champ Mahe Drysdale, who's been battling a terrible stomach bug, and only barely made it to the finals in his rowing event (placing third), managed a bronze yesterday. It was a heroic effort just to make the podium (or where a podium would have been had Beijing provided one). Then Nathan Twaddle and George Bridgewater scored bronze in the rowing pairs event. Oh, and a Kiwi cyclist scored silver in men's pursuit (the weird indoor cycling event).
Striking gold. Valerie Vili, reigning world champ in women's shot put, won gold with a dominating performance. And finally, by the narrowest of margins, Georgina and Caroline Evers-Swindell repeated their gold medal performance from Athens in double sculls. The twin sisters were in second most of the race, but they beat the Germans by .01 in the 2000 meter race. It was amazing!
All in all, then, New Zealand went from 0 medals to 5 in one day. It was quite a turnaround for this sporting nation hungry for medals.
Sally and I thought we'd stay up for the Tri-Nations (NZ, Australia, South Africa) rugby match, but it didn't come on until 1:00 am NZ time because the match was held in South Africa (yeah, it's far from here, too). The true pride of a nation, the All Blacks are really like nothing in the US. No sport is so completely dominant, and no team is so good on an international level for the Kiwis. Everyone here is pretty much rugby-crazy, and the media have given tons of build-up coverage for last night's game, even during the Olympics. The All Blacks did not disappoint, shutting out South Africa on their home turf as one part of a great day for NZ sport. It's been quite an experience to be here and be a part of it!