The New Zealand Herald
Brisbane 2032 a fantastic opportunity for our athletes
Brisbane’s successful bid for the 2032 Olympic Games is wonderful news.
Having the world’s biggest sporting event on our doorstep is an opportunity that many thought might not happen again, after Sydney in 2000 and Melbourne in 1956.
The Games had become so big, while commercial imperatives and time zones seemingly favoured North American, European and Asian cities. Beijing hosted a gargantuan event, then London seemed to top it.
But Rio in 2016 was a check back to reality, with eerie reminders of the white elephant Games of Montreal, which forced the IOC to examine their bid processes.
And now the Games are coming back Down Under. Every Kiwi of a certain age remembers the joy that accompanied Sydney’s successful bid and the spectacular Games the city hosted.
There was Cathy Freeman’s run that meant so much, and the epic 4x100m relay contest in the pool between Australia and the USA.
Steve Redgrave took a fifth consecutive rowing gold medal, NBA star Vince Carter managed the “dunk of death” against France (Google it), Cameroon retrieved a 2-0 deficit to pip Argentina in the men’s football final, Marion Jones tore up the track (before we realised) and Tatiana Grigorieva won a popular polevaulting silver and broke a few hearts in the process.
If those memories seem internationally focused, it’s for a good reason; there weren’t too many New
Zealand highlights. In fact, given the circumstances and the expectation preceding those Games, it was undoubtedly our most disappointing performance of the modern Olympics era.
The Kiwi team didn’t reach the podium during the first six days and garnered four medals (one gold) overall.
It was the lowest tally since 1976. After the massive hauls in Los Angeles (11), Seoul (13) and Barcelona (10), expectations had been raised in New Zealand.
But not much went right. Strong contenders like Hamish Carter and Beatrice Faumuina bombed, while others like Sarah Ulmer (fourth in the women’s individual pursuit) and the men’s tornado (fifth) were squeezed out.
There were some special moments, particularly Rob Waddell’s sculling gold but it fell massively short of our best Olympics haul, as the Hillary Commission had confidently predicted in a long term strategy document soon after Sydney was awarded the Games in 1993.
So what went wrong? Certainly, some athletes underperformed, struggling to raise their levels amidst the weight of expectation and the high levels of media coverage from back home.
But there were also system problems. Back then there was no Millennium Institute of Sport, no rowing or cycling high performance centres and not the same access to world class coaching or overseas competitions.
The funding models were vastly different, often backing specific athletes rather than allowing National Sports Organisations to build pathways and structure.
Sydney prompted a wide-ranging revamp of the framework, with the subsequent formation of SPARC and then High Performance Sport New Zealand.
It’s not perfect, but given our limited resources and population it’s streamlined, collaborative and mostly successful. It means the New Zealand team will be well placed to take advantage of another “home’’ Olympics, unlike in 2000.
So that one day, when Kiwis are reminiscing about the Brisbane Games of 2032, they won’t struggle to recall highlights involving the Silver Fern.
Bring it on.