On Tuesday evening at Sky City, the full team selected to represent New Zealand at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games was presented formally for the first time, in the presence of patron and guest of honour, His Excellency Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, GNZM, QSO, Governor General of New Zealand.
The glittering event, only made possible thanks to sponsorship from Sky City, was themed gold in support of Paralympics New Zealand’s Spirit of Gold® Initiative. Over 200 supporters, families and special guests, including Minister for Disability, the Rt Hon Nicky Wagner, joined in the first-of-its-kind celebration marking exactly ‘50 Days to Go’ until the Opening Ceremony. Hosted by One News presenter Simon Dallow, the 29 selected Para-Athletes were called by name and asked to join Rio 2016 Paralympic Games Chef de Mission, Ben Lucas, on stage. The Para-Athletes were presented to excited guests by Paralympics New Zealand’s major partners ACC, Sanford, Cadbury and supporting partners, Invacare, BLK, Visa and Adecco, whose commitment has helped to pave the road to Rio. They were congratulated by Alex Baumann, Chief Executive of High Performance Sport New Zealand.
The 29 Para-Athletes represent five Para-Sports including Para-Athletics, Para-Cycling, Para-Sailing, Para-Shooting and Para-Swimming. New Zealand is aiming to win a total of 18 medals, including 12 gold, and also hopes to retain its London 2012 title of number one in the world, medals per capita. Between them, this team has secured 23 World Championships titles and 11 World Records since 2012.
Fiona Allan (Chief Executive, Paralympics New Zealand) said, “New Zealand Para-Sport has seen staggering growth and success since the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games. 12 years ago, we were ranked tenth in the world per capita for medals won. By London 2012, thanks to the support of High Performance Sport New Zealand and Paralympics New Zealand members and partners, we were first. Our Para-Athletes are amongst the best in the world, but they are also wonderful role models. We hope that their performances will inspire the next generation of Paralympians, but also show New Zealanders that disability is no barrier to success. It gives us all great pleasure to be able to mark their achievements tonight and thank the partners that have made the Rio 2016 campaign possible.”
The evening began with a key note speech from His Excellency, who spoke about the athletes’ courage and determination and commended them for the inspiration they will give to a generation of New Zealanders. Following on from this, TVNZ and Attitude took to the stage, unveiling plans for free-to-air coverage of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games between 7-18 September. In cooperation with New Zealand On Air and Presenting Partner ACC, the broadcast partners will deliver more than 180 hours of live, delayed and on-demand coverage and highlights across DUKE, TV1 and AttitudeLive.com throughout the Games.
Two special highlights took place during the evening: firstly, fundraising partner Harvey Norman left Paralympics New Zealand Chief Executive Fiona Allan speechless after presenting a cheque for $320,000. Since April, all 38 Harvey Norman stores around the country have been selling Spirit of Gold® merchandise and collecting donations to help send the team to Rio and to support the development of Para-Sport in New Zealand. The final amount raised was described by Allan as “completely stunning. I can’t thank the Harvey Norman team enough, to have over 3,000 people working on our behalf this way and to have had such a huge response from customers over such a short time… this will make an incredible difference, especially as we begin our build to PyeongChang 2018 and Tokyo 2020!”
Allan had earlier taken a moment to especially welcome the three New Zealand Winter Paralympians at the event, sit skier Corey Peters, snowboarder Carl Murphy and downhill skier Adam Hall, who are all currently in the build up to the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Paralympic Games in March 2018. All three feature in the Spirit of Gold® Portrait Collection, donated by kiwi artist Amber Stephens. They were joined by fellow Portrait subjects Paracanoeist Scott Martlew and Para-Cyclist Tim Williams. The Portraits have travelled over 15,000 km in a Renault Master branded van provided by supporting partner, Renault. They have visited 85 locations, interacted with 120k people live and over 14m in media and social media since they were unveiled by Prime Minister John Key in November. The auction for these Portraits was officially opened during the evening, in the hopes they will find a permanent home by the end of 2016. Paralympics New Zealand hopes they will go to an institution.
Secondly, Invacare unveiled a secret project it has been working on with Paralympics New Zealand. Their generosity will see all seven Para-Athletes that use wheelchairs, along with Rio 2016 Chef de Mission Ben Lucas, gifted a brand new bespoke Kuschall wheelchair by the time of the Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony –with a combined worth in excess of $60k. Several of the Para-Athletes have already received their chairs, making quite a splash this evening with their silver fern branded wheels.
Mary Fisher (London 2012 Paralympian and World Champion) said, “This evening is another exciting milestone for all Paralympians as we mark ‘50 Days to Go’ until the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. It was great to bring together the New Zealand Team for the very first time and celebrate with special guests and partners.” She continues as she describes her maiden Paralympic experience in which she won four medals, “To be the best in the world on that day in London and to be able to share it with so many people was a decade-long dream realised. My aims in Rio 2016 are to race to the very best of my ability, motivate New Zealanders to stick with their passion and hopefully win some more gold to bring home to New Zealand!”
Ben Lucas (PNZ Rio 2016 Chef de Mission) said, “We are focussed on creating a high performance team environment in Rio which is both inspirational and motivating, while providing the opportunity for our athletes to thrive and succeed.” He continues, “I look forward to welcoming our first Para-Athletes into the village on 28 August, followed by the official team welcome and New Zealand flag bearer announcement on 6 September.”
Malcolm Humm (PNZ High Performance Director) believes the signs are very positive and leading into Rio preparations have gone very well and the team is growing in confidence.” He said, “To get to this point we created a very strategic talent identification programme that has targeted athletes in individual sports and with multiple medals available,” he explains. “We are now seeing athletes winning multiple World titles and Paralympic gold medals who have come through this system like Para-Cyclist Emma Foy and Para-Swimmers, Nikita Howarth and Mary Fisher.” He continues, “We are tracking well and based on the current data we would achieve our goal of 12 gold medals in Rio 2016.”
The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, which begin exactly 2.5 weeks after the end of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and take place in the exact same location and venues, will run from 7-18 September 2016. The Games are the world’s largest multi-sport event for disabled athletes; over 4,350 athletes from 178 countries are expected to compete in 22 sports, with 526 medal events taking place.
The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will be broadcast in New Zealand. Viewers can catch the action as it happens every day on TVNZ’s fully live streamed TV channel DUKE, together with extensive delayed and highlights coverage. Along with ONE News coverage, a special highlights programme will air every night on TV ONE and will be available online through TVNZ OnDemand and AttitudeLive.com.