OPINION: As the 2012 Olympic countdown ticks into the final week and just days ahead of leaving for London, I find myself asking: Who is really New Zealand's best medal hope?
For almost the entire four-year cycle since Beijing there's been one name firmly on most lips: Valerie Adams.
And rightly so. She has not been beaten in over two years and is the holder of every major title her sport has to offer.
But just days short of the London games' opening ceremony, some have suddenly transplanted the 'strongest gold medal prospect' tag to the men's rowing pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray.
As far as Olympic gold predictions go, the three-time world champions certainly appear as safe as can fairly be expected of anyone - particularly for athletes who are yet to win Olympic gold, or even a medal between them.
What's strange is that the moving Kiwi stocks over the last 10 days have had nothing to do with either Bond or Murray.
Nor have they had anything to do with Adams.
It's all because of Belarusian shot putter Nadzeya Ostapchuk who supposedly recorded a throw of 21.39 metres at a meet last week.
It was the longest throw of her career, the longest throw of 2012 and longer than Adams' personal best of 21.24m.
It seems, as a result of that throw, Adams is no longer the gold medal favourite in some people's eyes. But that ignores some intriguing trends in Ostapchuk's career.
Like how she hasn't beaten Adams head-to-head in over two years. Like how Adams blitzed her by over a metre in a recent Diamond League confrontation in Rome. Like how she decimated her at the world indoor champs in Turkey before that.
What's more, close examination of Ostapchuk's career progression and supposed biggest throws reveal they all happen in her home country, Belarus.
Unlike Adams and Bond and Murray's best results, we don't get to see Ostapchuk's achievements on tape. We only get to read numbers, such as 2010, 2011 and 2012's personal bests, which were all recorded, yep you guessed it, in Belarus.
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. But this pudding has no proof - apart from that she hasn't beaten Adams in the last two years.
For my money, Adams is still our best hope for gold in London.
You only have to view some of her diary footage from Switzerland to see she has entered a Spartan-like physical state - and she's completely happy with her progress into London.
She is ready, she is focussed.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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