Back to starting blocks for NZ swimming

SIMON PLUMB IN LONDON
Last updated 05:00 05/08/2012
A disappointed Kiwi Gareth Kean after swimming the 100m backstroke semifinal at the London Olympics.
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax NZ
ANSWERS: Two weeks' holiday in Europe has given Gareth Kean plenty of time to reflect on his Olympic failure.

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Opinion

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OPINION: Where to now for Swimming New Zealand's high performance programme?

The sad reality for the class of London 2012 is that from 16 athletes, across 18 events, only two individuals and one relay team achieved best times. Most were faster three months ago at the national championships in West Auckland than they were at the Olympic Games.

Even more concerning, six swimmers across nine events were quicker at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi two years ago.

The nation's best athletes in a blue riband Olympic sport are going backwards, the national body is a shambles currently enduring a third taxpayer-funded review in four years and the one New Zealander who did really fire at the Games, Lauren Boyle, has been developed by the American collegiate system.

It all points to the bleeding obvious - the New Zealand system is fundamentally flawed.

And it's the athletes who are paying the price.

Gareth Kean is a talented swimmer. You don't win Commonwealth silver as a 19-year-old if you're not. Two years on and he looks disillusioned after a disappointing Olympic debut in which he was meant to kick-on.

Kean openly admits to his own shortcomings around his poor performances over the last week, but does not think the New Zealand system is fully providing for him. Specifically, it's not allowing him to race anywhere near as often as he should. That's a pretty elementary problem for someone whose job is to race.

Kean suggests others in the high performance programme share his feelings, and he is looking overseas in an attempt to get his career back on track.

It's difficult to grasp why New Zealand's swimmers weren't given more opportunities to blast away the race rust heading into the biggest event on the calendar. In fact, it's almost negligent.

After March's Olympic trials, a last-minute camp was planned for Canberra three weeks before London 2012. Then illness broke out and it was scrapped.

It's also difficult to know why Swimming New Zealand sent such a big team to the Olympics in the first place. Presumably it wasn't expecting such underwhelming performances.

South Africa sent five fewer swimmers to London than New Zealand and came away with four gold medals over the first six days of the meet - good enough for the country to sit equal sixth on the pool medal table at that point.

The French, who have done even better with three gold, two silver and a bronze, only sent one more swimmer than New Zealand.

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In recent years both the French and the Japanese concluded their systems were misfiring because qualifying standards and funding thresholds were too low. They ramped up both and in a short space of time are now new powerhouses within world swimming.

New Zealand sport has always faced two fundamental problems - human and financial resources.

But the pool lesson to be learned from the South Africans, the French and the Japanese is simple: Quality, not quantity.

In 24-year-old Boyle, Swimming New Zealand has a world-class talent in its hands. That talent almost quit four years ago because the New Zealand system was failing her.

Now we've got the Americans to thank for helping get her to where she is now. Can Swimming New Zealand guarantee the double Olympic finalist will be given every opportunity to thrive?

Not on recent evidence.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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