Drysdale honour caps golden Games

Four years is a long time in sport.

In 2008 rower Mahe Drysdale cut a dejected figure.

Robbed of the chance to perform at his best by a gastric bug in Beijing he put himself through the wringer to claim bronze in the single sculls.

Back then he was the person given the honour of leading the team at the opening ceremony but he left China without the gold medal he craved.

Four years later he had his redemption in London, overcoming a shoulder injury, to add Olympic gold to his five world titles.

It was appropriate that he, the 1.98-metre tall giant his teammates look up to, literally and figuratively, was handed the honour of carrying the flag in London's closing ceremony.

It brought the curtain down on New Zealand's equal most successful games in terms of medals, matching the 13 earned in Seoul in 1988.

It surpassed the pre-Games target of 10 medals to bring up the century of Olympic medals.

That honour went to the 49er pair of Blair Tuke and Peter Burling whose silver will no doubt be the subject of pub quiz questions for years to come.

"The athletes' performances on the field have been outstanding. We are exceptionally proud of our athletes and the support team behind them," New Zealand Olympic Committee president Mike Stanley said.

In fact, only one medal was actually won in the field, Valerie Adams' shot put silver.

Eight of them were won on the water, and the rest in the saddle - bike or on horseback.

The head of High Performance Sport New Zealand, Alex Baumann, hailed the team's ability to cope with the pressure of the Olympics.

"Our team stepped up and performed really well on what is undoubtedly the world's toughest sporting stage," he said.

The medal haul began with team eventing bronze four days into the Games, including a medal to 54-year-old Mark Todd, and ended on the penultimate day with gold to Lisa Carrington 31 years his junior.

Only the Los Angeles Games in 1984, which were subjected to a Soviet-bloc boycott, produced more gold medals (eight), than London.

It was a huge improvement on New Zealand's medal haul at both previous London Games in 1908 and 1948.

All the country had to show for their efforts from those Olympiads was Harry Kerr's bronze medal in the 3500m walk when competing for a combined New Zealand and Australia team - Australasia.

For much of the Games Australian journalists were wishing that union was still in place after a barren start in the pool left the "Green and Golds" sitting behind their trans-Tasman rivals until the second week when they came good on the water off Weymouth.

It came as a relief to them but the performance put new Zealand fourth on the medal table in terms of population behind Grenada, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

Once again New Zealand punched above its weight on the world stage, but medal winners may also have weighty issues to worry about - the spoils of Olympic success weigh almost half a kilo.

The carry-on baggage limit may be tested when they fly out of Heathrow on Monday - if they let the medals out of their sight that is.