The New Zealand Herald

Brisbane 2032 a fantastic opportunit­y for our athletes

- Michael Burgess comment

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.

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