Win puts NZ canoe racing back on the map
Lisa Carrington's Olympic gold brings a much-needed boost to Canoe Racing New Zealand - but Carrington's coach, Gordon Walker, expects life to remain hard for elite Kiwi paddlers.
Since Ian Ferguson, the country's most successful Olympian, and Paul MacDonald put sprint canoeing on the map during the second half of the 1980s, the sport has fallen foul both on and off the water.
Until Carrington's golden K1 200-metre sprint on Saturday night, Ben Fouhy's silver medal from the 2004 Athens Games had been the only Olympic result to cheer and Fouhy himself was at the centre of an infamous spat with his national governing body.
The situation between Fouhy, Ferguson and CRNZ got so bad that Sport Minister Murray McCully had to intervene, allowing Fouhy to operate outside the high-performance programme.
But so scarred is Fouhy that he even volunteered a expletive-laden rant to journalists minutes after the end of his Olympic career a few days ago, saying he felt he'd been let down by administrators and citing issues years in the past.
Ferguson, like the competitor he is, hung in and remains a high-performance coach and the powerbroker of CRNZ.
However, Carrington's new success should guarantee the sport retains its government funding or, more likely, is about to receive a significant increase.
After Carrington won the world title last year, canoe's high-performance funding from Sport New Zealand this year almost doubled in size from $871,175 to $1,641,953.
Apart from football, which also receives large annual grants from world body Fifa as well as millions in world cup prizemoney, that makes canoeing the least-funded of Sport New Zealand's 10 “targeted and key contestable” Olympic codes.
In comparison, Bike New Zealand, which delivered two bronze medals and a silver at London 2012, received $5.6m this year, second only to Rowing New Zealand's $6.5m.
And while Walker agrees Carrington's success can only be good for the profile of canoeing and its elite funding, he doesn't expect drastic change.
“It does put canoeing back on the map, but it's still going to be really hard,” he said. “There are a lot of really good kayaking nations out there that only managed to qualify one or two athletes. These are much better kayaking nations than we are and yet they didn't even medal.
“It [funding] doesn't necessarily make it any easier, the job is still going to be very, very tough for us to go out and win medals.
“It's a tough game.”
The North Shore base for CRNZ's elite squad was only recently able to buy a set of starting gates, allowing the likes of Carrington to practise a critical element of her performance.
And while essential purchases like that should now be easier for a sport with proven Olympic credentials, much like New Zealand Football, the biggest challenge will be how well administrators can use current success to ensure future talent and participation.