Zoi Sadowski-Synnott and Nico Porteous, both 16, won bronze medals at the Winter Olympics this week. Their efforts add to an ever-growing list of impressive achievements by New Zealand teenagers.
When the world ends and New Zealand must present its best self for God’s judgment, it will be as a teenager. I spent a couple of months in America last year and every time a friendly midwesterner heard my voice and found out I was from New Zealand, they followed up with one of three statements. For the sports fans, “Steven Adams!” For the music lovers, “Lorde!” And for everyone else, “Lord of the Rings, right?” It was annoying but infinitely better than five years ago when there was only ever one response: LORD OF THE RINGS!!
Young people, they’re doing things. And New Zealand’s global image is quickly becoming one moulded by its teenagers’ achievements. Our adults might do some cool stuff here and there, but Kiwi teenagers have consistently put New Zealand on the map.
Zoi Sadowski-Synnott and Nico Porteous
In the early afternoon yesterday Zoi Sadowski-Synnott won a bronze medal in the inaugural Big Air competition in Pyeong Chang to secure New Zealand’s second Winter Olympics ever. She also became the youngest New Zealander to win an Olympic medal at just 16 years and 353 days old.
BUT WAIT. Within two hours, Nico Porteous had not only won bronze in the halfpipe freeski, he replaced Sadowski-Synnott as the youngest medalist, clocking in at 16 years and 91 days old.
Two of the grand total three Winter Olympic medals our country has were won yesterday by 16 year olds. And the other one? Won by Annelise Coberger back in 1992. She was 20.
Anna Paquin & Keisha Castle-Hughes
Only two New Zealanders have ever been nominated for acting Oscars, Anna Paquin in 1993 and Keisha Castle-Hughes in 2003. Castle-Hughes was 13 when she became the youngest person at the time to ever be nominated for Best Actress. Paquin was just 11 (not even a teen!) when she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, beating out Holly Hunter, Winona Ryder, and Emma Thompson.
There’s a comment to be made here about the frivolity of female success in Hollywood but I’ll leave you to make that comment in your own time.
There’s nothing bigger than being in a Marvel movie. That’s about as much exposure as you can get in the western world. Taika Waititi (adult man) may have directed Thor: Ragnarok, but with Julian Dennison (teen boy) about to star in Deadpool 2, he may very well become the most recognisable New Zealander in the world.
Lydia Ko became the youngest winner of an LPGA tour event when she won the Canadian Women’s Open in 2012 at 15 years of age. Because she was still an amateur she couldn’t accept the $300,000 prize money so it went to the second placed golfer. Imagine being so good so young that you win for free. Ko turned pro soon after and has won another 12 LPGA events, keeping all the winnings.
Besides Ko, major-winner Bob Charles and Michael Campbell, who famously won the US Open in 2005, one of the most notable New Zealand golfing achievement belongs to Phillis Meti. Meti, a New Zealand golfer of Cook Island descent, was the youngest ever winner of the Women’s World Long Drive Championships after a drive of 326 yards in 2006, aged 19. She won again in 2017 and broke the women’s world record with a huge 406 yard drive. I guess that last one is a point for the adults of New Zealand.
We all know the story of Lorde’s rise to fame at 16. And that’s the point. Everybody knows. She won the Grammy for Song of the Year at 17 after being the first New Zealander ever nominated in that category. Since then, she’s been the face of New Zealand music and everyone I ever meet in Nebraska when I go to visit my grandma asks me if I know Lorde and are we friends and are there any other musicians in New Zealand?
While we were all going to school like nerds, Jamie Curry was amassing millions of followers to her Youtube channel. By the time she graduated from high school, Curry had 10 million Facebook fans from all over the world (obviously, since that’s more fans than the population of New Zealand). She also had a lot of money, thanks to monetising her Youtube videos and becoming an early sensation in vlogging, despite ‘vlogging’ being one of the worst words in the world.
Steven Adams is the only New Zealander ever selected in the first round of an NBA draft, as the 12th pick in 2013. At 19, he signed a rookie contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder. This season he will earn $25 million and is the highest paid New Zealand athlete in history. He’s also become a New Zealand ambassador in that NBA fans overseas now assume every New Zealander is into farming and says “mate” every other word. Not entirely inaccurate actually.
New Zealand consistently punches above its weight in global achievements in all areas. But when it comes to recognition, the faces most associated with New Zealand are young. What does this mean? Maybe it means that the older the New Zealander, the drier the balls. Maybe, just maybe, it means we’re only a few years away from nobody talking about Lord of the Rings anymore. But probably it just means that young people are cool and will be running this country a lot sooner than any of us expected. I can’t wait.
This section is made possible by Simplicity, the online nonprofit KiwiSaver plan that only charges members what it costs, nothing more. Simplicity is New Zealand’s fastest growing KiwiSaver scheme, saving its 10,500 plus investors more than $3.5 million annually. Simplicity donates 15% of management revenue to charity and has no investments in tobacco, nuclear weapons or landmines. It takes two minutes to join.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.