Pictured: Daniel Shirley and Sara Runesten-Petersen, New Zealand. Photo Credit: Badminton Photo
Daniel Shirley and Sara Runesten-Petersen were the sole New Zealand representatives in the badminton event at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and ultimately one of the nation’s most successful Mixed Doubles pairs.
They had already celebrated a bronze medal at the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games, before making history as New Zealand’s first and only medalist at a World Championships when they claimed bronze in the 2005 edition, where the were defeated by China’s legendary pairing of Xie Xhongbo and Zhang Yawen (video below).
The pair polished off an impressive career with a silver medal in the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games. However, according to Sara, nothing can beat that feeling of qualifying for an Olympic Games – particularly when it returned to its home in Athens:
“It was very hard to qualify, so it was a dream come true for me and when you work very hard to achieve your dream the feeling of making it was unbelievable. Being part of something historical was also very emotional for me and going to Athens and see where it all started was fantastic. I think because you are together with so many different athletes competing in the same event, not just badminton, it makes it very special.”
“It’s the same medal we compete for, it’s the same food hall where we go and it’s the same village we all live in. Together, but competing in our own sport. That’s what really makes the Olympics special for me”, says Sara.
Similarly, Daniel recalls the moments of pride and emotions felt as he walked out onto the court in Athens:
“My favourite memory was the feeling of walking out onto court before each match, with the pride of representing New Zealand and the emotions of everything that had come before it to get there”, says Daniel.
To mark the one year to go milestone until the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee is celebrating the #StrongerTogether movement to promote the Olympic values. The kiwi Olympians shared their experiences of unity and diversity from their experiences at the 2004 Games:
“Being a part of the Olympic team was for me celebrating solidarity and unity in diversity. We were all greeted with a Hongi when we came to our NZ village in the Olympic village by all the members of the team. Staying together with other athletes and living next door to them sharing the same living room made me feel like a part of a big family”, says Sara.
“I think one of the special things about the Olympics is that everyone has gathered for the same event but under a very different set of circumstances, everyone has a story with unique challenges, everyone has overcome different obstacles and it was nice to be a part of that and share others journeys”, says Daniel Shirley
Photo Credit: Badminton Photo
The postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games has challenged many of the aspiring Tokyo 2020 Olympic athletes to rethink their training and qualification plans, with Petersen advising athletes to take advantage of the extra time to better themselves as every difference counts:
“This is your chance to be even better in 2021. This is a one chance (for some) going to the Olympics and I wanted to do everything as good as I possibly could, not having any regrets. Now is your change to get the little things even better because at the Olympics it is the little things that makes the difference”, says Sara.
Join the celebrations by telling us about your favourite Olympic memories which champion solidarity and unity in diversity using the hashtag #StrongerTogether