Olympics: Fouhy goes down swinging

By Michael Brown

Ben Fouhy ended his canoeing career the way he started it, explosively, and he unloaded a broadside at New Zealand high performance sport officials after he failed to qualify for the final of the K1 1000m.

The 33-year-old won the world title at his first attempt in 2003, picked up silver at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and set the world's fastest time in 2006. Since then, Fouhy has usually been making headlines for events off the water rather than on it.

He's quit canoe sprint racing before - once after a messy divorce from former coach Ian Ferguson that put the entire sport in the spotlight and another time because of recurring funding issues and a lack of autonomy over his career - but he couldn't resist another tilt at the Olympics.

He finished sixth in his semifinal tonight at Eton Dorney, and will have to end his career in a B final.

K2 1000m pair Steven Ferguson and Darryl Fitzgerald qualified for Wednesday night's final after finishing a comfortable third in their heat but will have to find some more speed to medal.

Fouhy didn't have that in his semifinal and was close to tears as he emerged from the water. He also had fire in his belly and expressed his outrage at some sporting officials he believed hampered his career.

"It's hard to take,'' he said. "When you win the world title by a boat length in your first attempt, you set high standards. It stings a little bit to stare down a barrel and finish your career without reaching your potential. I know what I'm capable of. I had a world record for five years and been a world champion.

"You have a lot of detractors out there who like to kick you when you're down. That's New Zealand for you, isn't it? They like to kick you when you are down and build people up.

"I'm disillusioned. I'm f**king disgusted with Sparc. I don't mind them making decisions that you don't like but at least have the courtesy to get on the phone and ring me and tell me. They spent hours and hours talking to me, trying to get me back in the boat. I understand it's not all about Ben. I understand that. I won the world title but spent all my savings and I was $10,000 in debt.

"We did it on the smell of an oily rag. It's not about that. It's about trust, and being able to believe and trust in the people you work with. You don't have to look further than New Zealand Swimming to see they are turning a blind eye to things. There are athletes out there busting their guts. We don't want to be wrapped in cotton wool but we want to be able to say I believe in my campaign and what I'm doing and just give your god's honest best. You can live with that.

"I tried to do my best and be as honest as I can. A lot of people didn't like that but they didn't seem to mind it when you were winning. When the chips are down and you're not winning, all of a sudden you're a moaner. I'm a moaner who has been training six days a week, three times a day living off $25,000 a year, borrowing money to pay my bloody mortgage for the last year.

"I'm a former world champion. It's f**king not easy. It puts the pressure on. It's different when you are 20 years old and you're living in the back of a car. But when you become a world champion you expect extra support to get better. They don't want to know you when the chips are down. You get used as a political pawn.''

Former Sparc chief executive Peter Miskimmin, who is now chief executive of the body created to replace it, Sport New Zealand, expressed his disappointment at Fouhy's comments.

"Clearly he's hurting and frustrated and has things to say," Miskimmin said. "He's not happy with how he's performed and taken the opportunity to say some things that I don't necessarily agree with."

Fouhy doesn't know what he will do next but training and racing is basically all he has known and he is keen to return to race ironman. He said it's a sport he doesn't love as much as kayaking but that love also brought plenty of pain.

- NZ Herald

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