Shallow pool as Boyle exits SNZ programme

18:47, May 17 2014
Lauren Boyle
BUSY GIRL: Lauren Boyle will contest the 200 metres, 400m and 800m freestyle events and is also a possible part of the women’s 4x200m freestyle relay team for the Commonwealth Games.

Swimming New Zealand faces questions over the services being provided to 2016 Olympic medal prospect Lauren Boyle and the efficiency of its $1.4 million-a-year, taxpayer-funded national high-performance programme.

On the eve of the Commonwealth Games, triple world championships medallist Boyle has extracted herself from Swimming NZ's elite Auckland base, and the tuition of national coach David Lyles, to head for Barcelona to train under esteemed French coach Fred Vergnoux.

The need for Boyle to relocate her own training raises questions over Swimming NZ's capacity to cater for the Rio 2016 medal prospect - the brightest talent New Zealand swimming has seen in years, and an athlete who has blossomed in the face of multiple coaching changes and years of well-documented, dysfunctional governance from Swimming NZ.

While Swimming NZ's coaching ranks have been expanding in personnel, Boyle has become the latest athlete to move away from the national programme those coaches operate.

Top male swimmer Glenn Snyders has been based in California for more than a year under world-renowned coach Dave Salo. Others from the high-performance programme to leave include Shaun Burnett and Michael Mincham (who are both based in Australia - where Kiwi Olympian Matt Stanley is also a regular visitor for training), Gareth Kean, who is on a break from swimming (leaving Wellington's high-performance centre operating without any top talent), and Christchurch's Sophia Batchelor, who is following Boyle's footsteps to the University of California Berkeley.

In the past, Minister of Sport Murray McCully has intervened in cases where high-profile athletes have felt their national sporting organisation was not doing enough.

Advertisement

When Olympian Valerie Adams wanted to operate her own high-performance programme after her split with coach Kirsten Hellier in 2010, Athletics NZ fought to contain the champion shot-putter. McCully intervened, ultimately allowing Adams to operate her own programme under expert coach Jean-Pierre Egger in Switzerland - where the results have been unquestionably successful.

Similarly, when Olympic kayaker Ben Fouhy wanted to operate outside of his national sports organisation, McCully also came down on the athlete's side in an attempt to keep the world champion operating at his optimum.

World short-course swimming champion Boyle has confirmed to the Sunday Star-Times that her decision to change her coaching and training base was made only "four to five days" before leaving the country last Saturday. She had spent the previous 10 days remotely mapping out a work programme with Vergnoux.

Such a move, 10 weeks out from a pinnacle event, is highly unusual and carries a degree of risk.

Lyles, the Briton who was appointed national coach a year ago, initially directed a call from the Star-Times to Swimming NZ's media personnel "because that's how we do things in this country", but then downplayed the haste of Boyle's relocation, claiming the possibility had been discussed between himself, high-performance director Luis Villanueva and Boyle herself "for weeks."

On Friday, six days after Boyle's departure, a brief statement issued by Swimming NZ also appeared to downplay the significance of their star athlete's exit. After announcing that the Commonwealth Games squad would be competing in this week's Oceania swimming championships in Auckland and that "the championships have attracted 150 swimmers from 14 countries for the four-day meet that also includes synchronised swimming", came the revelation that star swimmer Boyle had relocated to Europe to "push herself in training to make up lost ground".

Swimming NZ chief executive Christian Renford was unable to complete an interview with the Star-Times on Friday. Renford agreed to continue the interview yesterday, but failed to respond to calls and voicemails.

Sunday Star Times