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Kiwi Para athletics team provide many cherished memories
Lisa Adams celebrates after winning gold in the shot put F37 final of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Lisa threw a distance of 15.12m to set a new Paralympic record. (Photo: Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics witnessed a magnificent haul of seven medals and a myriad of unforgettable memories from the eight-strong New Zealand Para athletics team inside the National Stadium. We reflect on some of magical moments.
Lisa Adams – Gold – Women’s Shot Put F37
It was the warm embrace with big sister and coach Dame Valerie Adams which probably best encapsulated the journey undertaken by Lisa to reach the top of the podium in Tokyo.
While Lisa was clear favourite to strike gold in the women’s shot put F37 – it needed to be remembered the Rotorua powerhouse had only taken up the sport seriously three years ago and was appearing at her first Paralympic Games. There was no guarantees.
Yet such was her dominance the world champion and world record-holder surpassed the pre-event Paralympic record with all six throws and unleashed the six longest throws of the competition – her best of 15.12m was posted in both rounds five and six – to claim gold by a massive 1.43m margin.
It was one of the most dominant displays imaginable – and rich reward for the hard work and sacrifices made by the 30-year-old athlete.
In the immediate wake of her gold medal success Lisa said: “My coach told me to just got out here and enjoy it because we had done all the work, and that’s what I did. I had a really fun time out there, it was so amazing. And the support from my coach and the crowd, and just our little crew that are allowed to be here, it was amazing.
“During the playing of our anthem it was just reflecting, and I was so emotional about it, because it’s been so special, so hard, so rewarding, but I felt very supported and loved, and I was really, really proud to do this for Aotearoa and our little team of five mil.”
Lisa also placed seventh in the women’s discus F38 final with a best of 29.69m.
Danielle Aitchison – Silver in the women’s 200m T36 and bronze in the women’s 100m T36.
She smiled before the race, she smiled after the race and sometimes she even smiled during the race – was there a happier Paralympian inside the National Stadium than Danielle Aitchison?
To be fair the 20-year-old Hamilton-based athlete had plenty to smile about. On her Paralympic debut she performed like a seasoned veteran kick-starting her quest by winning silver in women’s 200m T36 in a time of 29.88.
Three days later she returned to the track to compete in the 100m, finishing one place higher than at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships to take a well-earned bronze and complete an unforgettable Tokyo 2020.
Danielle – who was raised in Patetonga – only took up disability athletics four years ago but has enjoyed a meteoric rise and in 2019 took world 200m T36 silver – yet her all-round performance in Tokyo was undoubtedly her crowning glory so far.
“I am really happy to come away with two medals (from Tokyo),” said Danielle, who is coached by Alan McDonald. “It’s been an amazing experience and to get the reward of two medals makes all the sacrifices I’ve put in worth it.
“I’d just like to say a huge thank you to all my supporters, my family and my mum because they couldn’t be here because of Covid.”
Will Stedman – Silver in the men’s long jump T36 and bronze in the men’s 400m T36
Taking on the challenge of two finals in a 16-hour period, Will produced a herculean effort to claim long jump silver and 400m T36 bronze inside the Olympic Stadium.
Given too that he has also been battling a stress fracture in the lead up to the Games, the Christchurch-based athlete’s efforts were even more commendable.
In an epic long jump competition, the 21-year-old plundered his maiden international medal in the discipline courtesy of a stunning Oceania record of 5.64m in the last round – a leap which elevated the Port Hills AC athlete from sixth to silver.
Will then returned to the Olympic Stadium just 16 hours later and despite limited sleep and understandably feeling fatigued he pushed through the pain barrier to deliver the bravest of bronze medals in the men’s 400m T36.
Will, who also won a brace of Paralympic bronze medals at the Rio 2016 Games, said of his efforts: “It’s been a full on last 16 hours and I’m really pleased with how it’s gone.
“I ended up with probably about four hours sleep (in the 16 hours between his two events). I felt really tired and the time showed a little bit (in the 400m), but I gave it absolutely everything. I had nothing left at the end of the race. The last 40m I was running on empty, so I’m really pleased with the effort I put in today.”
Anna Grimaldi – Gold in the women’s long jump T47
At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games following Anna Grimaldi’s breakthrough gold medal success in the women’s long jump T47 she admitted at times she had questioned whether she deserved to win.
However, five years later on a rain-soaked day in Tokyo – the Dunedin-based jumper had absolutely no doubts she deserved to win after setting a brace of Paralympic records on her way to a dominant gold medal
Since he success in Rio, Anna has suffered her challenges including a lengthy foot injury which nibbled away at her confidence. However, thanks to her coach Brent Ward and her support team the piece of the puzzle started to come together and after enjoying a stellar 2020-21 domestic campaign – highlighted by a fabulous new PB of 5.91m – her confidence rose.
A stunning opening round 5.74m – 3cm in excess of the Paralympic record – set the tone for a competition she dominated and in temperatures of 19c and persistent rain she sealed gold with a 5.76m leap in round four.
“It has been a huge five years and I just feel the weight of the world has lifted from my shoulders,” she explains.
“In Rio I won by accident but here I won on purpose. I’ve charged as a person, and I hope it is obvious to people watching how different I am. I’m really proud.”
Holly Robinson – Gold in the women’s javelin F46
A dramatic final round throw of 40.99m elevated the Kiwi thrower from bronze to a the sweetest of golds in an exhilarating climax to women’s javelin F46 final.
The 26-year-old competing at her third Paralympic Games has claimed a string of medals on the international stage but never previously major championship gold.
However, with one mighty boom of the arm all that frustration was washed away with a magnificent 40+ throw.
The Hokitika-raised, Dunedin-based thrower had struggled to find her usual rhythm and she was in regular consultation with her long-time coach, Raylene Bates, to find the right recipe.
However, showing impressive composure under extreme stress, Holly spectacularly delivered in the final round to overhaul Dutch thrower Noelle Roorda and her long-time rival Hollie Arnold of Great Britain.
“So many times (in the past) I’d had a good throw in the final round and gone up to number one only for someone to beat me,” explains Holly. “I was just waiting for that last throw of the competition and once it was done, that was a moment I’ll never forget.
“It means a lot (to win gold). I’ve been fighting for so long. I don’t think the distance reflected where I was at or what I was capable of but I’m really proud of myself and managing to get that gold in the final round.”
Three other Kiwis proudly represented their country at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and the trio will all by richer for the experience. Caitlin Dore banked a second successive top eight finish at a Paralympics Games, placing eighth with a best of 9.03m in the women’s shot F37 having placed seventh in the javelin F37 five years earlier at Rio 2016.
Anna Steven, the 21-year-old sprinter, impressed to reach the final of the women’s 200m T64 where she placed eighth. Unfortunately, the Aucklander was disqualified in the 100m T64 heats for false-starting but the positive experience of competing at her first Paralympic Games would have far outweighed the negative.
Ben Tuimaseve placed ninth in the men’s shot with an Oceania record of 13.31m. The Aucklander only took up the sport in 2016 but since then his progress has been meteoric and the 32-year-old is very much focused on competing at the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.