With a population of just over five million, New Zealand athletes achieve sporting success well above their weight class. This year alone, they excelled in such far-reaching disciplines as freestyle skiing, track cycling, swimming, snowboarding and athletics.
From historic snowboarding gold on the slopes of Beijing to quadruple gold at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, here’s a selection of the best performances by New Zealand athletes from last year.
Zoi Sadowski-Synnott: Master mentality
Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, snowboarder
Beijing 2022 turned out to be a historic event for one New Zealand athlete. Zoi Sadowski-SynnottThe gold won by New Zealand in the snowboard slopestyle competition was the first ever won by New Zealand at the Winter Olympics.
A few weeks before his 21st birthday, the winter sports phenomenon Kiwi landed a double 1080 stud on his final jump in the competition to secure gold.
The reaction was understandably insane as a group of contestants jumped on top of her to celebrate her victory.
“It was a crazy moment that I will never forget,” Sadowski-Synnott told Olympics.com in an exclusive interview. “That tackle at the end after I landed in my last heat was special. Just because yes, snowboarding is an amazing sport and it shows how excited we are about ourselves when we land it.
Aaron Gate, road and track cycling
Aaron’s Gate enjoyed a spectacular Commonwealth Games ride to the winning road races, team pursuit, individual pursuit and points race, becoming the first New Zealander to win four gold medals at a single Commonwealth Games.
At 32, Gate is no newcomer to the sport, but his performances in Birmingham were a defining moment for the star.
Three track gold medals would be a spectacular return for the Kiwi star, but his recent road race performance – against many more successful athletes – shows why he more than deserves a spot on this list.
“I was a little nervous that my legs were going to lock up when I started the sprint – but luckily I was able to finish the bike,” said Gate after the road race.
“I was literally on a razor’s edge before getting to the line and I just couldn’t believe it.”
Nico Porteous, freestyle skiing
It didn’t take long for New Zealand to win its first gold medal at the Winter Olympics.
Freestyle skier Nico Porteous put in a phenomenal performance in the post-1620s men’s halfpipe back-to-back, and a 900 alley-oop flatspin saw him progress from PyeongChang 2018 bronze to Beijing 2022 gold.
Porteous, who turned 21 in November, got his first taste of success at the Winter Olympics at the age of 16, but the skills he showed in his masterclasses in Beijing show he has the ability to dominate the sport for many years to come.
“Watching Zoya win last week was really, really motivating because I wanted to be there and I wanted to do it,” Porteous said after his win. “It was really inspiring and driving for me, it made me put my head down and do everything I could at that moment.”
Hamish Kerr, athletics
A high jumper from Auckland Hamish Kerr was another New Zealand history maker in 2022. The 26-year-old, who finished 10th at Tokyo 2020, was in brilliant form in Birmingham, winning his country’s first ever high jump gold in Commonwealth Games history.
It was Kerr’s first ever Commonwealth Games and he soared over the bar by 2.25m beating the reigning titleholder Brandon Starc. This came after he won a bronze medal at the World Indoor Championships in Athletics in March, where he became New Zealand’s first high jump world medalist.
“It’s unreal,” said a delighted Kerr after his victory. “I knew I came in pretty good shape, but at the same time, it’s amazing to get there. The stadium is amazing and I feed on that energy. I’m in shock.”
Lewis Clareburt, swimming
New Zealand had not won a Commonwealth Games swimming gold medal in 16 years prior to Birmingham 2022. But Lewis ClareburtHis performance in the 400m IM ended a fallow period when he touched the wall in 4:08.70 to claim the victory and set a new Commonwealth record.
However, Clareburt did not stop there. Just a day later, he secured his second 200m butterfly title by beating the legendary South African Chad Le Clos and a two-time Olympic gold medalist James Guy Great Britain in an epic race that led to the end.
The swimming star even managed to add another medal to her trophy cabinet before the match ended with a bronze medal in the 200m IM.
“It was a dream come true,” he told Sky Sports after his last race. “This is what I dreamed of when I was young – winning medals on the world stage. I feel like I’ve made it happen.”