Editorial: Olympics success not cheap

COME OF AGE: Sarah Walker celebrates her silver medal.
COME OF AGE: Sarah Walker celebrates her silver medal.

Olympic success does not come easy, nor does it come cheap. The five gold, three silver and five bronze medals New Zealand brought home from the London Games came at huge personal cost to the athletes who won them, and a significant monetary cost to the taxpayers who helped fund their campaigns.

For those who stood on the dais, success was a well-earned reward for years of sacrifice and toil. For taxpayers, the 13 medal haul - equalling New Zealand's previous best Olympics at Seoul in 1988 - justified the $91 million invested in Olympic sports during the past four years.

That level of funding is what is realistically required if New Zealand is to continue punching above its weight at the Olympic Games. However, with Sport Minister Murray McCully warning that the amount available to all high-performance sports could be capped at $60m a year till at least 2014, the cash available for breeding Olympic success will need to be more tightly targeted.

The value of picking winners was shown by the huge success of our rowers, who received $19.1m to prepare for these Games. That was the most delivered to any of New Zealand's Olympic sports and the investment was more than repaid when the team delivered three gold and two bronze medals.

By contrast, the swimming team, which received $7.5m, turned in a dismal performance, with Lauren Boyle's fourth in the 800 metres freestyle final and eighth in the 400m the only performances of note.

Swimming's administrators will need to work hard to justify a similarly large investment during the next four years. Men's hockey will find itself in the same position after the Black Sticks performed well below expectations, while sports such as cycling and sailing can justifiably make a case for more funding.

There will be those who question the spending of any public funds on sports at a time when the economy is struggling and the Government has been forced to take austerity measures. However, ensuring New Zealand athletes are properly resourced to compete at the highest level internationally brings many benefits. As well as the obvious feelgood factor and source of national pride, Olympic success provides inspirational role models for our young people, gives them goals to aspire to and encourages participation in sporting endeavours that help build a fit and healthy population.

Of course, it takes more than money to achieve Olympic success. The extraordinary preparation put in by gold medal rowing pair Hamish Bond and Eric Murray is typical of the commitment required to win. They spent four to six hours a day on the water at Lake Karapiro as they built up to the Games, and estimate they pulled 17,000 strokes in training for every stoke they pulled in their final. Those long days of blistered hands, burning lungs and leaden arms were what ultimately got them across the line in first place.

Like the other athletes who have won medals at these Games, they have made their country proud. Who will it be in 2016?

The Dominion Post