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