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Triathlon: Cutbacks will sort out weak

Bevan Docherty.
Bevan Docherty.

Triathlon great Bevan Docherty wants New Zealand's top athletes to stop blaming administrators and be more accountable as the sport heads into further recession.

Docherty, with bronze at Beijing eight years ago, was the last Kiwi to earn an Olympic medal. That followed one of the country's finest Games moments when he and Hamish Carter raced to silver and gold, respectively, at Athens in 2004. Andrea Hewitt's sixth at London has been the best result since.

Disappointing Rio Olympic results coincided with Graeme Maw resigning as high-performance director and being criticised on social media by Hewitt and Ryan Sissons, the country's highest-ranked male.

California-based Docherty, who was part of the Rio selection panel, said singling out Maw was unfair. "If you really want to extend blame, you could lay it with Hamish and I. That [Athens] result brought a second-tier sport into the limelight.

"Rather than grow organically, the sport suddenly bloomed - and with that came jobs, responsibility and ultimately waste.

That level of expectation was only sustainable for so long and, as the results dropped away, so did the funding and sponsors like Contact Energy [in 2013, after a seven-year multi-million-dollar relationship].

"Graeme had to make cutbacks over the last four years. That's where the tension is coming from."

Kiwi athletes needed more hunger to achieve at the highest level, Docherty said. "I remember borrowing $2000 from a mate who had access to a student loan and going to Europe with a dream of being a professional triathlete. Sure, my parents were only a phone call away, but my goal was to be self-reliant.

"The modern-day athlete has developed an expectation that big money will somehow come their way. I don't think they appreciate the likes of myself slept in train stations and stole corn from farmers' fields to get by. I did the hard yards and that defined me as an athlete. Maybe it's good Triathlon New Zealand is in this position because it will weed out the weaker athletes. I'd give myself a get-out-of-jail-free card twice a year in races, but 90 per cent of the time the buck stops with you."

In response to Maw's resignation, Hewitt tweeted he had been "Busy ruining TriNZ for 4yrs!" When approached to expand on her reasons, Hewitt wrote: "I'm still overseas [but] on my arrival home I will speak with Tri NZ and HPSNZ [High Performance Sport New Zealand] to discuss my opinions with them."

Sissons told Fairfax: "If Graeme was still in the role that he had ... I would opt not to be part of Triathlon NZ."

Maw chose not to rebut those claims. "I've got nothing to add and I don't do Twitter. I've done a lot of work setting up a framework for Triathlon NZ, and I've taken it as far as I can."

Tri NZ president Arthur Klap said whoever came into that role "would meet resistance in bringing about dramatic change".

""To Graeme's credit, he recognised the need to step aside."

Aggravating the dire outlook were suggestions to the Herald on Sunday of a high-performance overspend last year in the vicinity of $200,000; acrimony among athletes, coaches and high-performance staff in the build-up to the Olympics and world championships; and a potential funding cut of up to $500,000 or 40 per cent from last year's HPSNZ budget of $1.25 million. Maw declined to comment on the question of any high-performance overspend.

Klap will present Tri NZ's funding case to HPSNZ on November 21.

Carter, who works as a HPSNZ performance planning manager, has been seconded to help Tri NZ prepare for their grilling.

"We will get a cut," Klap said. "But the size of the cut is important. If it's 30 per cent, that has a major effect on how we can support athletes. We're developing three scenarios and their impacts. We have to prove one particular scenario - not the one with the least funding - is the best way to go.

"We've also received a significant cut from Sport New Zealand on the community side. "

Klap said if Tri NZ takes the current financial year into account, he was "optimistic" they would meet their budget by June 30.

- Herald on Sunday

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