Tokyo Olympics 2020: Chris Rattue – New Zealand’s best-ever Olympian? Why it’s not Lisa Carrington (or Sophie Pascoe)


Social media is ablaze again, with allegedly indignant punters claiming that Sophie Pascoe is being ignored in the greatest Olympian debate, one fired by Lisa Carrington’s Tokyo medal haul.

Paralympic swimming legend Pascoe has nine gold medals and six silvers. Olympic canoe legend Lisa Carrington has (at the time of writing) five gold medals and one bronze.

That anyone can win 15 medals over three Games makes it fairly clear this is an argument not worth having, because some sports are far more numerous in events and medal opportunities than others. As divers know, degree of difficulty is pivotal to a final score.

But let’s battle on.

I know very little about any Paralympic sport or Olympic canoeing and have virtually no interest in either. The last time I went to watch a canoe race was…never.

Full Kiwi schedule below. Click on a name to see athlete’s bio, upcoming events, past Games performance and medal chance.

But if you do want to properly compare the two using numbers, it’s probably going to take more complicated arithmetic than 15 medals v six medals.

But yes, if the “greatest” equation is 15 v 6, and the Olympics equals the Paralympics, then Sophie Pascoe is our greatest although she’s unlikely to see it in such a simplistic way.

Oh yes…the tyranny of numbers.

The number-obsession is replacing what used to be sport, and life.

Society has become obsessed with the convenience of numbers, and the way they can be manipulated.

We are unable to resist measuring everything, either by ticking a box next to a stupid statement or putting a number down.

We try to quantify things which can’t even be measured by numbers or ticks.

Even great art works are now measured almost solely by monetary value, or become great simply by their value. So are our houses, and even pets.

Is this healthy? (A rhetorical question obviously.)

One area of life that I am interested in is addiction, and methods of recovery from it.

The gold standard in recovery programmes used to be the one based at Hanmer Springs near Christchurch. It did this country so much good, and continues – via its legacy – to do so.

I say used to, because the people in control of public health money seemingly looked at some numbers and effectively shut down a unique and precious thing.

They used erroneous numerals to evaluate something that they clearly knew nothing about and destroyed it.

Moving on.

I love rugby league, but the NRL has become a depressing desert of statistics – hit ups, tackle counts, metres made, metres made after contact, Dally M award tables, and on and on and on.

We’ve even been coerced into spending huge amounts of public money in the chase for Olympic medal tallies, as if a total of 22 medals will make our lives better than a total of 13 medals.

Never mind if the medals are in niche sports that most people don’t care about, while sports that do have mass followings and many eager participants – think basketball – don’t count because hey, the Tall Ferns and Blacks aren’t podium prospects.

The Olympics aren’t just a medal count. They’re an interesting window into who holds sway in the halls of power.

Anyway, we are allowed to resist.

John Walker will always be the greatest Olympian to me. I was 14 when Walker, that magnificent mane flowing, stormed down the final straight at Montreal in 1976. It was a glorious sight, particularly for a kid watching the athlete he revered the most. It was the “only” Olympic medal John Walker won.

Walker “only” came second in the maybe the greatest race ever – the Commonwealth Games 1500m in 1974, when he was pipped by Tanzania’s Filbert Bayi, both men going under the old world record in that unforgettable Christchurch finish.

Walker was seen as carrying on the great Kiwi middle distance running tradition.

That’s probably how Carrington and Pascoe would like to see their achievements, as part of a greater whole.

Feel free to wield all the numbers you like to decide who our greatest Olympian is.

And yes, the debate sucked me in briefly. But on reflection, count me out.

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