NZ excelling at the sport of spin in Rio

7:42 pm on 16 August 2016

Sports Call - One of the major sports at the Olympic Games appears to be spin.

New Zealand Olympic cycling

Even track cycling is heavily publicly funded, but has not produced quite the results at the Olympics that were expected, writes Gael Woods. Photo: AFP

Organisations such as Sport New Zealand and the New Zealand Olympic Committee are so eager to talk up their team's performance that sometimes reality seems to fly out the window.

It was interesting to hear high performance chief executive Alex Baumann say on Morning Report that the rowing and cycling performances had been disappointing.

Chief Executive of High Performance Sport NZ, Alex Baumann.

High Performance Sport NZ chief executive Alex Baumann. Photo: Photosport

However, when asked if it would affect future funding for those sports, Mr Baumann was somewhat ambivalent.

Yes, there would be "a review and a debrief", but his comment that one of the criteria for giving money to a sports code was whether it met "the individual context of sport" seemed to suggest that if the sport was big enough it would get money anyway.

Certainly, some of the results in Rio during the first week must surely demand a rigorous funding review.

Mahe Drysdale edges ahead of Croatia's Damir Martin in the men's sculls final.

Mahe Drysdale edges ahead of Croatia's Damir Martin in the men's sculls final to claim a gold medal for New Zealand. Photo: AFP

One example of under performance has been rowing, which received $20 million in core investment funding.

With gold medals to the pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray and single sculler Mahe Drysdale, as well as a silver to the women's pair of Genevieve Behrent and Rebecca Scown, the rowing haul was still significant.

But you would suspect that those who know better - rowing administrators and Sport New Zealand's high performance unit - do know better. The target was set, somewhat conservatively, at five medals in Rio.

New Zealand rowers won nine medals at each of the last two world championships, and expectations were high, especially with a 2014 world champion, single sculler Emma Twigg, coming back into the fold.

All credit to the class of Bond and Murray, the grit of Drysdale and the wonderful effort of Behrent and Scown. They were brilliant. But as for the entire rowing team, the medal haul fell short of what was expected.

Instead, some of our world champions didn't even make finals and some world championship medallists seemed to be struggling in Rio.

Emma Twigg came fourth in the women's single sculls final.

Emma Twigg came fourth in the women's single sculls final. Photo: AFP

One Australian rowing official I spoke to said the New Zealanders must be "gutted" about how their rowers have gone.

Instead, Mike Stanley, the New Zealand Olympic Committee chairman, spoke in triumphant terms after the rowing finished. He is a former world rowing champion and it would be interesting to get his private thoughts.

Even track cycling, another of the sports that is heavily publicly funded, has not produced quite the results at the Olympics that might have been expected after recent world championship performances.

And no New Zealand swimmer even made a final, with only one reaching the top 10. Most were far off the pace.

Surely it is time to ask whether it is fair on minor sports to send a biggish team of swimmers to the Olympics when they will clearly be outclassed?

Dylan Schmidt, Trampoline, Rio 2016 Olympic Games, New Zealand Gymnastics. 11 May 2016.

Dylan Schmidt, 19, was impressive on the trampoline, making the finals and finishing seventh. Photo: Photosport

Two of the most heart-warming moments for New Zealand during the first week of the Olympics were the medals of shooter Natalie Rooney and K1 kayak slalom paddler Luuka Jones. You could add in the seventh placing of teenaged trampolinist Dylan Schmidt.

Those successes, in sports that are far from high profile in New Zealand, should give the funders pause.

Perhaps Sport New Zealand and key sponsors should be looking at what other potential champions there are out there and stretch their minds to move beyond the major Olympic sports and the potential spin-off commercial and branding benefits of being linked to them.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs