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Andrew Alderson: Medal haul needs viewing with sporting perspective

The New Zealand track cyclist Sam Webster. Photo / Greg Bowker
The New Zealand track cyclist Sam Webster. Photo / Greg Bowker

It's easy to lose perspective amid New Zealand's stellar performance at the Commonwealth Games.

Here's an event where Kiwi athletes have flexed their collective sporting muscle as one of the strongest outposts of the former British Empire.

They have mostly met or exceeded expectations, with triathlon and sevens the obvious exceptions. It would be churlish to argue otherwise when many athletes have gained valuable experience at a multisport pre-cursor to the main stage - the 2016 Rio Olympics.

However, New Zealand's main Olympic hopefuls, and the sports which receive the lion's share of government investment after reaping nine of New Zealand's 13 medals at the London Olympics, weren't at Glasgow. Rowing, canoeing, sailing and equestrian, which aren't deemed worthy of Commonwealth inclusion, will hold separate world championships in the next seven weeks.

The seeds of Olympic glory are more likely to be sown on the waters of the Bosbaan in Amsterdam and Krylatskoye canal in Moscow, the seas of the Mediterranean and the countryside and arenas of Normandy.

There are exceptions, notably in track and field and cycling, but fans should look further afield than Glasgow to observe where the shoots of 2016 Olympic glory are sprouting.

The rowers (three gold, two bronze at London), sailors (one gold, one silver), paddlers (one gold) and riders (one bronze) all complete their pinnacle events between now and September 21. Rowing, sailing and canoeing also provided five of New Zealand's nine world champions last year. High Performance Sport New Zealand will invest about $33.7 million this year into 13 targeted sports and 18 campaign sports.

Commonwealth sports receive $14.77 million (44 per cent) of that - rowing, sailing, equestrian and canoeing receive $10.85 million (32 per cent).

The New Zealand Olympic Committee, in combination with their partners such as Sky Sport and ANZ Bank, should be commended for delivering the illusion that what has taken place in Glasgow is a main course rather than an entree. Twitter hashtags such as #makingusproud have pervaded in an outpouring of national joy.

Rob Waddell has brought mana to the chef de mission role, including a reduction in gratuitous haka. Sky Sport have broadcast seamless coverage and goodwill propaganda. ANZ have produced a sentimental masterstroke of an advertising campaign which guaranteed tickets for family members and supporters of New Zealand athletes in return for filming their poignant stories.

Waddell pointed out the Commonwealth Games are a pinnacle event for some sports and that New Zealanders should show respect. That's fair enough for the netballers, bowlers, weightlifters, judokas, shooters and wrestlers, many of whom exceeded expectations. Yet it can't detract from the reality that Glasgow is an hors d'oeuvre to Rio's banquet.

Commonwealth Games medals earned against 70 other countries who pay homage to the British monarchy can't compare to a global measurement like a world championships or Olympics.

There's nothing ostensibly wrong with the Commonwealth Games but their place in the sporting pecking order needs perspective. The official feel-good mantra of 'humanity, equality, destiny' hardly compares to the Olympics' 'faster, higher, stronger' for flinty competition.

Sam Webster, arguably the best performed New Zealand athlete with two cycling gold medals and someone who knows what it's like to miss Olympic selection, said it best: "We're halfway there."

- Herald on Sunday

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Covers sport across NZME's print, digital and radio brands.

Andrew writes and broadcasts on cricket and the Olympic disciplines for NZME's print, digital, video and radio platforms. His most recent project followed New Zealand sportspeople competing in Europe during the 2015 northern summer. He has attended four cricket World Cups, three Olympics and regularly works as a correspondent overseas.

Read more by Andrew Alderson

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