Olympic selection a thorny issue
The 11th- hour decision to replace Natalie Rooney with Ryan Taylor in the New Zealand shooting squad for the London Olympics continues a run of selection controversies that stretches back nearly a century.
Target shooter Taylor was omitted from the New Zealand team in favour of women’s trap specialist Rooney, but the decision was reversed last week after Taylor’s appeal to the Sports Tribunal of New Zealand.
It seems odd that they can’t both be sent to London, but New Zealand has a quota for its Olympic shooting contingent, so it had to be one or the other.
The Taylor-Rooney drama is the latest of many New Zealand Olympic selection debates. Among the most celebrated:
1928: Champion distance runner Billy Savidan was not sent to Amsterdam despite being the national one-mile, three-mile and cross-country champion.
Four years later, in Los Angeles, Savidan finished fourth in the Olympic 5000m and 10,000m.
He once told me his big regret was not going in 1928, when he was at his peak.
1956, 60 and 64: Roy Williams, New Zealand’s first great decathlete, was three times overlooked for Olympic selection. He was among the world’s top 10 in 1956 and 60, and his omission was inexplicable.
In 1964, just to be sure, he headed to the University of Southern California, for top-class competition. His performances kept improving, but the selectors ruled that because he’d done them overseas, they wouldn’t be considered.
Williams won the decathlon gold medal at the 1966 Empire Games, but never did get a crack at the Olympics.
1960: Marise Chamberlain set world bests in the 400m and mile, but was overlooked for the 800m event in Rome. Ironically, a relatively unknown male 800m runner, Peter Snell, was sent that year and did rather well.
Chamberlain did get to the 1984 Olympics, where she won a bronze medal.
1968: Long jumper Bob Thomas set a national record of 8.05m in January 1968, a mark that still stands 44 years later. His leap would still have won an Olympic medal in 1976.
Yet in 1968 the selectors sent another long jumper, Dave Norris, and left Thomas at home.
1976: Euan Robertson was not chosen for the steeplechase, so he toured Europe with running greats John Walker, Dick Quax and Rod Dixon.
Robertson kept breaking his New Zealand record and kept being overlooked. Finally, a month before the games, he reduced his time to a sensational 8min 22.8s and simply had to be chosen.
Though he was nearly run ragged trying to earn selection, he still finished sixth in Montreal. ‘‘Not bad for a reject,’’ said his coach, Arch Jelley.
Olympic selector and team manager Bill Holley later told me the selectors’ hardline attitude was the reason Robertson had done so well in Montreal!
1980: A 99- strong team was chosen for the 1980 Moscow games. Eventually only four competed – three canoeists and a modern pentathlete – after American president Jimmy Carter called for a boycott and some Western countries supported him.
Carter, who had an election looming, decided the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was reason enough for a boycott.
The New Zealand Government put tremendous pressure on individual sports to withdraw and they crumbled. Nearly 50 of the original team never did become Olympians.
2004: Hamish Pepper (laser), Andrew Brown and Jamie Hunt (47) were chosen in the yachting squad, but their selection was fraught with problems.
Andrew Murdoch felt he should have got Pepper’s spot and Simon Cooke and Alistair Gair felt they should be the 470 selections. They all appealed to the Sports Tribunal, which agreed.
The matter was then referred to the International Court of Arbitration for Sport, which reversed that ruling, and the original selections remained.
2008: Liza Hunter-Galvan, who had run 51st in the 2004 Olympic marathon, missed selection in 2008. She appealed to the Sports Tribunal and had the decision overturned. In Beijing she ran 35th.
The following year she returned a positive test for banned performance-enhancing drugs and was suspended for two years.
Reinstated: Ryan Taylor is London-bound after winning his appeal against his non-selection in New Zealand’s men’s shooting team. It is the latest in a long history of Kiwi Olympic selection debates.