Financial reward for Kiwi medallists miniscule

LISA CARRINGTON: An Olympic medal contender since she switched to the K1 200m and  suddenly won world championship gold.
LISA CARRINGTON: An Olympic medal contender since she switched to the K1 200m and suddenly won world championship gold.

New Zealand's 185 Olympic athletes will continue to do it for love, not money, in London in the coming weeks.

While the Government's funding agency, Sport New Zealand, has poured $180 million into the Olympic and Paralympic campaign, cash incentives as athletes chase podium glory have been ruled out.

"It's been discussed many, many times," SNZ chief executive Peter Miskimmin said. "Other countries have tried it. But, talking to athletes, it's not a huge incentive. It doesn't seem to necessarily motivate them."

Instead, SNZ looks to the future. Under the existing plan, each medallist will receive a $55,000 performance enhancement grant ($60,000 for gold), which funds the continuation of their campaign, looking to 2016. This amounts to about $7m, but the PEG system will be reviewed after London.

"We'd much rather plough that money back into supporting them after they've been successful.

"If you compare it to a young kid beginning an NPC rugby contract; they're probably on $60k as well and yet we're asking Valerie [Adams] to do all she does as a world champion for that.

"It's just what is affordable, given what we've got."

Prizemoney for medals is a vexed issue. Britain, whose investment in its Olympic programme is about 300m (NZ$585m) a year, won't shell out extra for medals, while Russian Olympic bosses said earlier this year that "at least US$500,000" (NZ$630,000) would be their athletes' gold medal reward, funded by wealthy businessmen.

In Australia, each swimming gold medallist in London will receive A$35,000 (NZ$45,000) prizemoney, on top of an A$10,000 "sweetener" for making the team, funded from commercial revenue.

Back in SNZ's central Wellington office, medals were occupying Miskimmin's mind as he prepared to fly to London this weekend. A little over four years into the job, it's a question he has fielded constantly: how many will New Zealand win?

New Zealand's target is for 10 or more medals in London, with no specification on colour.

In Beijing, New Zealand won nine medals, up from five in Athens.

The 10-medal target was set back in 2007 when SNZ, then known as Sparc, charted its six-year high-performance strategy.

That led to the establishment of High Performance Sport NZ, headed by Canada's 1984 swimming gold medallist, Alex Baumann.

Miskimmin is confident the target will be reached, but the former Olympic hockey rep knows the big day can be fickle.

During the one-year countdown to London, New Zealand athletes were ranked top-three in the world in 22 events. Before Beijing, there were nine.

"I don't think we're going to win 22 medals, but indications are we're heading in the right direction. Now we've got a lot of athletes in the right position, it comes down to how they execute."

Miskimmin won't be commenting on the team's medal progress during the Games, before the exhaustive review starts into the successes and flops.

Most of those 22 medal contenders were well-known several years out.

However, but kayaker Lisa Carrington was the surprise package when she switched to the K1 200m and suddenly won world championship gold.

Rowing and cycling are expected to provide the bulk of the medals. They were the most-funded sports in the Olympic programme over the past four years, with $19.2m and $18.3m respectively.

BikeNZ has set its medal target at four, which would double their all-time haul, although BMX provides two legitimate contenders in the sport's second Games, Marc Willers and Sarah Walker.

Based on past performance and expectations, athletics, swimming, triathlon and hockey all topped $5m in total investment for London.

Miskimmin rates the team the best prepared to leave New Zealand shores. Given their levels of funding, that's a given, but with investment in high-performance coaching and facilities starting to kick in, SNZ expects some return.

Miskimmin is preparing to be inspired by his athletes.

"A lot of them don't do it for the money; they're doing it for the passion to be No1 in the world and be inspired by us as a nation getting behind them.

"It's a really honourable thing, what our Olympic athletes do."

The Dominion Post