Back­ing all our Olympians

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT -

What the Lon­don Olympics em­pha­sised is that there is no such thing as a bolter any more.

Welling­to­nian Ted Mor­gan turned up at the 1928 Am­s­ter­dam Olympics with a bro­ken hand, sev­eral kilo­grams over­weight and vir­tu­ally un­known in world box­ing. A week later he had won the wel­ter­weight gold medal.

When Peter Snell went to the 1960 Rome Olympics, his over­seas trav­els had com­prised one quick trip to Mel­bourne. He was ranked only 26 in the world in the 800-me­tre. Yet he won the gold medal, set­ting an Olympic record into the bar­gain.

Ath­lete Rod Dixon, board­sailor Bar­bara Ken­dall, boxer David Tua – they were very green in their cho­sen sports when they tasted their first mo­ment of Olympic glory.

It’s nearly im­pos­si­ble for that to hap­pen now.

Even 23-year-old kayaker Lisa Car­ring­ton, who un­til the Lon­don Games was a rel­a­tively new face on the New Zealand sports scene, won a world ti­tle in 2011. Her Olympic suc­cess in the K1 200 last week­end was not a sur­prise to those who fol­low these things.

In these days of in­creased pro­fes­sion­al­ism in top-level sport, if ath­letes don’t have a good pro­gramme back­ing them – and that in­cludes money, in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion and ex­pert coach­ing – they aren’t go­ing to be a fac­tor at the Olympics.

It was no­tice­able that the New Zealan­ders who com­peted most hon­ourably in Lon­don were just those sorts of com­peti­tors – the row­ers, the cy­clists, Va­lerie Adams, our hockey teams, our three-day event­ing team.

Hav­ing the best sup­port doesn’t guar­an­tee suc­cess, but it’s a min­i­mum re­quire­ment.

The days of hav­ing sports run vir­tu­ally from the kitchen ta­ble of an en­thu­si­as­tic am­a­teur ad­min­is­tra­tor are over, or they should be.

It was re­veal­ing that many of the sports in which New Zealand strug­gled in Lon­don, such as taek­wondo, judo, weightlift­ing and box­ing, do not get a lot of sup­port from Sport New Zealand (for­merly Sparc).

The sports that Sport New Zealand has tar­geted, in­clud­ing row­ing, hockey, ath­let­ics, eques­trian and cy­cling, gen­er­ally fared much bet­ter.

The one prob­lem was swim­ming. All but two of the New Zealand swimmers failed to reach their best times and only Lauren Boyle, of a squad that talked so op­ti­misti­cally, even made a fi­nal.

No doubt Sport New Zealand will be ask­ing some stern ques­tions of swim­ming, and it would not sur­prise if swim­ming’s fund­ing was heav­ily cut af­ter its Lon­don fail­ures.

The prob­lem is what to do with the freak­ishly good ath­letes now and then pro­duced by mi­nor sports, the likes of squash player Su­san Devoy, skier An­nelise Coberger and boxer David Tua.

My sug­ges­tion, af­ter talk­ing to var­i­ous sports of­fi­cials dur­ing the Olympics, is that Sport New Zealand should set up a small high-per­for­mance unit with the spe­cific goal of putting such ath­letes un­der one um­brella and mak­ing sure they get the as­sis­tance that ath­letes in the ma­jor sports en­joy.

The unit would not re­move them from their sport, but would come in over the top to en­sure they were get­ting the best ad­vice in terms of coach­ing, nu­tri­tion and so on, and were funded well enough to get the nec­es­sary in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion.

One thing’s for sure: in this era they won’t be able to do it on their own.

Photo: GETTY IM­AGES

Golden girl: Lisa Car­ring­ton cel­e­brates af­ter win­ning the women’s kayak sin­gle 200m sprint at the Lon­don Olympics.

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