Editorial: Take a bow, London - and our Olympic team

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Athletes from around the world march in the Olympic Stadium during the closing ceremony. Photo / AP
Athletes from around the world march in the Olympic Stadium during the closing ceremony. Photo / AP

Congratulations for the spectacular success of the New Zealand team at the London Olympics must, of course, go first and foremost to those who won medals. But their success also indicated that much is right about the work of their coaches, support personnel and training facilities. In addition, and crucially, Sport NZ has been right on the mark in most of its funding decisions. These factors provided the foundation for a haul of 13 medals that equalled the 1988 Olympics in Seoul but was better than that because of the winning of five golds. The excellence of this achievement is only emphasised by comparisons with the likes of Canada, which won just one gold.

The debate in that country right now will be about what went wrong, and how to rectify matters as quickly as possible. Australia is having a similar discussion. Here, there is the more straightforward matter of maintaining that level of performance at Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Attention has fallen already on the potential impact of a freeze in Government funding for high-performance sport for at least the next two years. This compares with the $964 million boost that will be allotted to British athletes over the next four years.

Obviously, that will be a substantial help to the British effort in Rio. Team Great Britain's haul of 29 gold medals in London owes much to the huge sums that have flowed since the country placed first just once at Atlanta in 1996. The restricted funding here means that Sport NZ and High Performance Sport NZ will have to be even more precise in their targeting.

The big success over the past few years has, of course, been the identification of rowing as a major medals source. Three golds and two bronzes reflect the work of the crews, top-quality coaches and the excellence of the high-performance centre at Lake Karapiro.

They also illustrate the march that Britain and New Zealand have stolen on the world in a sport dominated by the East Europeans before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The trick will be staying ahead as other countries seek to duplicate the degree of professionalism at Karapiro.

Of the six sports currently targeted by Sport NZ, swimming is, obviously, the one under most pressure. With the exception of Lauren Boyle, the effort in London was poor. That performance owed much to the way in which the world has increasingly embraced swimming. Australia and Britain, both traditionally strong in the pool, also suffered, as did Canada. That level of competition means some of the current funding for swimming in this country could be better used elsewhere. What remains must be tailored towards those with genuine chances of winning a medal.

The Sports Minister hopes more money will become available to high-performance sport in the 2014 Budget. If so, its destination should be reasonably apparent at that time.

London reinforced the fact that the level of international competition today means there is little room for bolters. An individual's prospects are evident some time before the Games. New Zealand's result in London was accurately foretold by the 21 podium finishes in Olympic-related world championships last year.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge declined to call the London Games the "best ever" Olympics, a term originated by his predecessor after a previous Games. They were, he said, the "happy and glorious Games". There was no need to be so bashful. By any yardstick, these Olympics were a superb spectacle. They were both the "best ever" Olympics and the "best ever" for New Zealand.

The Eastern bloc boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics will always cast a shadow over the eight golds won there. No such caveats can ever temper the wonderful effort in London.

- NZ Herald

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