Proud parents as Walker snares silver
As Sarah Walker's parents made a bee-line for Kiwi House, all they could think of was what their beloved Kawerau would have made of the tiny North Island town's first Olympic medal.
For a while now, Walker has been the best thing to come out of the North Island town, more notable for its timber than its procurement of precious metal. Sure, she rides a BMX bike, and there are those who look with scorn upon such a pint-sized sporting receptacle. But surely no longer.
Kawerau was fit to burst as Walker, 24, secured an unlikely silver medal in the women's BMX finals in London yesterday. And there was no one prouder, no one who had played such a prominent role, and no one about to celebrate it as much as Graham and Sue Walker, who were right there in the stands as their daughter earned the New Zealand Olympic team its 12th medal of these Games.
"It will be huge at home, just huge," said Graham after practically chewing his fingers to the bone as Sarah did it the hard way through the three-heat semifinal series just to make the one-off medal race.
"We're just relieved and over the moon for all the people who supported her over time. There have been some fantastic contributions from all sorts of people, and she's done a lot to unify and promote our little town of Kawerau. That was pretty special."
Sue said she was less nervous than her husband, but had found the day easier to deal with as it progressed. In Beijing, four years ago, they had watched on as Walker had finished just outside of the medals in fourth. This time round they prayed she would make the breakthrough to the podium.
Someone, somewhere was listening. Walker scraped into the final by going fifth, fourth and third through the three semifinals. When she continued that sequence by finishing behind only Marian Pajon of Colombia in the medal race, suddenly the Walkers had a party to attend.
"We're just heading to Kiwi House to see how we can party down there," mum Sue told Fairfax Media in London yesterday. "We're just over the moon for her. After she dislocated her shoulder (three months ago in Norway) they were nerve-racking times helping her through that. But we support her through everything, and we're just so proud of how she's worked to get back from that injury and to do it today was fantastic."
Graham revealed that Kawerau would be awash with Walker fever after they made sure that the town - 7000 strong - would remember who was fighting for their honour here in London.
"My wife's a teacher at the primary school there, and she left about 50 T-shirts with her name on to be worn by all the kids and staff.
"I teach high school in Whakatane, and I left 20 shirts at our school to be worn. Those shirts will be worn forever with pride, I can tell you at both places."
New Zealand owes the Walkers a debt of gratitude. They bought the BMX bike for son Matt one Christmas, and eventually Sarah decided she was sick of watching her little brother have all the fun.
"Her first nationals down in Invercargill people were saying 'who is that?' because she just rode so beautifully, and was like a boy. Her brother helped her, and they used to have competitions who was going to jump further and higher and longer," recalls Sue.
"They bounced off each other big time and that helped so much."
Or, as Graham sums it up after the disappointment of a fourth-place finish in Beijing: "This time to see that smile on her face, that's worth millions of dollars ... billions of dollars actually."