Elite attitude needed from Winter Olympians

SIMON PLUMB
Last updated 05:00 23/02/2014
Rebecca Torr
Reuters
NOT GOOD ENOUGH: New Zealand's Rebecca Torr sticks out her tongue at the finish line during the women's snowboard slopestyle semi-finals in Sochi.

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High performance sport boss Alex Baumann has given New Zealand's Winter Olympic campaign in Sochi a pass mark - but believes there's a need to develop a "high performance culture" within the programme.

Baumann, who led Canada's high performance body "Own The Podium" between 2007 and 2011, says that while New Zealand is likely to fall short of the formal performance target they were set for Sochi 2014 by tomorrow morning's closing ceremony, he believes the display has been credible, shown international progression and that there is now an argument for increased public funding.

Crown investment for New Zealand's winter programme increased to $6.315 million for Sochi 2014, almost three times that of the $2.3m for the previous four-year cycle to Vancouver 2010.

However, Baumann, who was at the helm of Own The Podium when Canada hosted the Winter Olympics four years ago - and where the host nation finished on top of the gold medal table, says for the Kiwi programme to continue to improve and receive more money, there needs to be a shift.

A full debrief and review meeting of New Zealand's Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games are expected by June - processes which will have a fundamental impact on the direction and finance of the Kiwi winter programme.

But Baumann has already identified areas potentially ripe for improvement.

"They're slightly different kinds of athletes [to Summer Olympians]. It will take a bit of time to shift from that extreme culture to a truly high-performance culture," Baumann said. "I think in the last two years that has happened, but there's still a way to go."

Specifically, Baumann elaborated on elements such as coaching progression, giving time for new Olympic events to bed in and also allowing time for athletes to figure out where the Olympics fit in with other pinnacle events, such as the Winter X Games.

He could also be pre-empting a recommendation for tightening athlete conduct off-piste, with strict social media policies already well established for Summer Games athletes.

Controversy swirled around the extra-curricular habits of Kiwi Rebecca Torr within the athletes village, with the Te Puke snowboarder using social media to joke about using a dating app to "match with the Jamaican bobsled team."

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Regardless, as for what happened on the ice and snow, Baumann was comfortably satisfied, but needs time to establish what New Zealand's goals for 2018 might look like.

"It's been a credible performance in Sochi. The goal was to try and get a medal and have four top eight finishes. We have the four top eight finishes and have been close to a medal, but not quite," he said.

"There's been significant movement from the Games in Vancouver - where we had no top eight finishes. We had four top-8 finishes this time with Adam Barwood still to run in the men's slalom [this morning].

"It's an evolving and maturing programme. It would have been great to get a medal, but there's been quite a bit of talent and there's also been bad luck with Christy [Prior] having to pull out just before the semifinals because she fell in a training run, and, with Byron [Wells] as well. Injury is part and parcel of these Games but I do think we were unlucky.

"We've certainly acquitted ourselves. As with many Games, sometimes the start isn't the greatest.

I remember Vancouver when I was with Own the Podium, the first week was a shocker for us, but in the end Canada did come back and won that gold medal race with 14 gold medals."

Looking at now striking bilateral agreements with strong winter nations, including Canada and the Netherlands, Baumann says the performance of the Kiwis in Sochi has made a global impact of sorts.

"Internationally it shows we're progressing. It is a new programme," he said.

"It's not dissimilar to the winter programme that started in Australia in 1998, it took a while for that programme to get going.

"They've taken a silver and two bronze, though I don't think they're going to be too happy with that.

"There's quite a bit of excitement in our winter programme and I do think there's potential."

Baumann's ultimate winter question is funding to 2018.

And while that can't be answered until June's debrief, he welcomed discussion on a targeted increase.

"The base level is about $1.7m per annum, I think we have to take a look at that through the debrief - what exactly are the needs, what were the results at the Olympics and what is the potential for the future?" he said.

"I think the amount was right for this cycle. What the amount is for the next cycle we have to take a look at.

"If you take a look at return on investment, there's quite a bit of excitement and I do think there's potential.

"But, we have to be pretty targeted in this area. If we go to too many other sports then we're not going to get the results that we need.

"There are certainly challenges there and it will come through in the debrief."

Meanwhile, the last Kiwi to compete at Sochi, alpine slalom skier Adam Barwood was due to compete overnight. The 21-year-old finished 44th in the giant slalom on Friday morning, but the smaller event is his preferred discipline.

In other news, Jossi Wells is tipped to carry the flag for the Kiwi team at the Games closing ceremony which is due to start at 5am tomorrow NZ time.

- Sunday Star Times

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