Results not matching funding for Swimming NZ

DISAPPOINTED: Swimming NZ’s high performance director Luis Villanueva admits the Kiwis did not perform as well as they should of in the pool in Glasgow.
DISAPPOINTED: Swimming NZ’s high performance director Luis Villanueva admits the Kiwis did not perform as well as they should of in the pool in Glasgow.

Nearly nine million dollars spent in four years and two medals to show for it.

That's the meagre return on investment for Swimming New Zealand following a lean Commonwealth Games display in Glasgow that would have been disastrous if not for Lauren Boyle.

New Zealand's four-medal haul in the pool was only given weight by Boyle's freestyle gold and silver, and para-swimmer Sophie Pascoe's two gold. The two medals gained by the country's 14-strong able-bodied team - both won by Boyle - harked back to similar low returns from the 1998 and 2002 Games.

This country hasn't won an Olympic swimming medal since Danyon Loader won two gold at Atlanta 1996, and only the most optimistic fan would predict that drought will be broken in Rio in two years' time.

Swimming is one of 13 'targeted sports' for High Performance Sport New Zealand, the organisation entrusted with assessing and distributing taxpayer-backed funding.

Targeted sports are those identified as having ''the best opportunity for success at Olympic Games, Paralympic Games and World Championships''.

From 2011 through to the end of this year, HPSNZ will have given swimming $8,651,674 - including $2,020,544 this year. The figures for 2014 are split into $1.5m direct programme investment with the rest in direct athlete investment.

Yet Boyle's 400m gold and 800m silver in Glasgow are the only concrete returns on money spent on Swimming NZ - funding for Pascoe, the multi-medal winner at the London Olympics and last year's IPC world champs, comes through Paralympic channels.

New Zealand won six medals at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi four years ago - four silver and two bronze - but Boyle's fourth in the women's 800m freestyle was the closest they got to the podium at the 2012 London Olympics.

The slim returns at Glasgow was expected - not even Boyle entered the meet with a world ranking on times this year that would have placed her in the top three.

But Swimming NZ's high performance director Luis Villanueva wasn't pleased with most of the team's efforts.

''The team hasn't performed as well as I'd expected,'' Villanueva said.

''Our aim was to focus on personal bests, or at least improve qualifying times. Not in all cases has that been produced.''

The same team will contest the Pan Pacific champs in Australia next month and Villanueva will withhold final judgement until then.

''I'm not happy, but I think we can expect some good swims in three weeks on the Gold Coast.

''After that we will review and see if we need to make any change.''

There are some highly-talented youngsters pushing through - Gabrielle Fa'amausili has been smashing age-group records for a couple of years while Bobbi Gichard is another with a promising future.

Yet there must be concerns that the country's elite swimmer is 26 and of the team in Glasgow, only 19-year-old Corey Main looks like one for the future.

A massive concern for HPSNZ must also be that the Swimming NZ high-performance and coaching programmes appear to have minimal pull for the country's best performers.

Boyle, who has undergone a number of coaching changes when under the auspices of Swimming NZ in recent years, elected to prepare for Glasgow in Spain with Fred Vergnoux instead of back in Auckland with national coach David Lyles.

Snyders works fulltime in California with Dave Salo, improving backstroker Main is on a scholarship at the University of Florida, Matthew Stanley is based in New Zealand but regularly pops across the Tasman to work with Denis Cotterell while Mitchell Donaldson trains under Scott Talbot in Australia.

The future of 27-year-old Snyders is uncertain after a campaign that fell short of the lofty standards required to be among a group of world-class Commonwealth breaststrokers.

He spoke earlier this year of feeling refreshed, with the goal of competing at his third Olympic Games at Rio in 2016.

Yet in Glasgow he again failed to match the potential of his heat performances when the real heat was applied in the finals and now has emergent talents Adam Peaty and Ross Murdoch as further stumbling blocks.

Above all this is Boyle, elevated to a podium on her own.

She broke through for her first gold at a major international long-course meet, which may augur well for the next two years ahead of Rio.

Swimming has in recent years undergone a whole-of-sport review, which saw funding reduced, and the organisation has battled through multiple coaching changes and dysfunctional governance.

But until Boyle can be joined at elite level by more of the squad, a harsh spotlight will remain focused a sport failing to make a splash on the world stage.