David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: Sochi funders must take long, cold look at winter sports

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Shane Dobbin. Photo / AP
Shane Dobbin. Photo / AP

New Zealand's Winter Olympics end early tomorrow. Adam Barwood rounds off the programme in his favoured slalom event in Sochi, and then, what exactly?

A full and open review of New Zealand's performances in Russia would be a helpful start. Let's do the good bits first.

Skater Shane Dobbin finished seventh in his favoured 10,000m event; Janina Kuzma led the freeski halfpipe field for a time in the final before finishing fifth. Jossi Wells was fourth in the men's equivalent, while brother Beau-James and Lyndon Sheehan made it three New Zealanders in the top nine.

All these results are highly impressive. Remember, they are competing in judged sports.

Therefore, who's to say different sets of eyes might not have scored Wells, for example, a total of 3.2 points higher and had him winning bronze instead of France's Kevin Rolland?

The most contentious sports at the summer Olympics are those which require marking. It is subjective.

The best Olympic events - ranging from athletics through swimming, rowing, cycling, skeleton, alpine skiing and bobsled - are those where you finish up where you deserve, no better, no worse.

This week a savage reaction was unleashed towards Herald writer Dana Johannsen for a column in which she had the temerity to suggest the New Zealand athletes had, broadly, disappointed. In some cases their demeanour didn't impress. A cast-iron guarantee here: she's far from alone, judging from reactions.

However, some of the responses - from athletes in Sochi, and others who should be above this sort of nonsense - were appalling.

Snowboarders Rebecca Torr and Stefi Luxton were among the angry respondents, perhaps because Johannsen - shock, horror - pointed out they didn't look, shall we say, totally focused on doing what they were being financed by this country to do to the absolute best of their ability. There are two issues here, setting aside the social media rubbish: funding, and perception.

From 2011 - the year after the Vancouver Games - until this year, High Performance Sport New Zealand directed about $5.657 million towards winter sports. The figure for 2013 alone was $1.815 million. Alex Baumann, the boss of HPSNZ, described it as "perhaps the most professionally prepared team we've ever sent to a winter games".

There should be a hard assessment of whether that's been money well spent. That's not witch hunting winter sports; it's what should happen to all sports who receive chunks of the public purse.

And yes, that does include Team New Zealand.

Here's a perception theory. Many of the athletes - whether heading for the podium or bombing out halfway down a run - poked their tongues out, did the "Hi Mum" routine and generally looked like they were having a fat time because they were.

What's not to enjoy about spending your year circumnavigating the globe snowboarding or freeskiing? It's good fun, and what's more it is about culture.

There is an expectation from within the sport, and from sponsors, that they show they're enjoying themselves. It's not to say they're not hurting inside, weren't determined to produce their best; it's just that they have a funny way of showing it.

Here's the rub: what would be the reaction if Mahe Drysdale, Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie or Lisa Carrington gave cheery waves to the camera, shouting to their parents and friends immediately after taking a tumble or failing to meet expectations at their summer Games finals?

The two Games are different beasts. What can't differ, however, is how they are assessed when it comes to funding.

- NZ Herald

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