Australian Sports Commission CEO Simon Hollingsworth admits he is unsatisfied by Australia’s Winter Olympics medal tally but he has defended the Winning Edge funding model which led to such team friction in Sochi.
The ASC’s Winning Edge strategy, developed in the wake of London Olympic disappointment, targets funding heavily toward athletes identified as strong medal potential.
Attempting to herald in a new era of Games sporting success, the ASC set a high bar of a top-15 medal table finish in its first test: the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.
However Australia finished 24th with three medals – equalling the most for an Australian Winter Olympic team but with no gold medals and still three to five less than required to achieve their top-15 target.
“It was solid … but we were unsatisfied,” Hollingsworth told AAP.
“To walk away with three medals without a gold was a little disappointing.”
“That’s not to take anything away from the athletes who got on top of the podium.”
Hollingsworth said the fact that 15 athletes achieved a top-10 finish was still a great outcome that would help set Australia up for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, adding Winning Edge would also benefit from an extra four years’ tweaking by then.
One aspect will include increased communication about the policy guidelines – and also the consequences of airing grievances while Australian athletes are trying to focus on Games competition.
Australia’s two-time world champion Alex `Chumpy’ Pullin had to compete shortly after a teammate’s father issued an angry email claiming Pullin had received $1 million (closer to $500,000 over four years), while his daughter had received just $38,000.
Divisions had already been simmering and became obvious as fellow snowboarder Torah Bright started the social media hashtag “teamoutcast” to show her support for some teammates on funding issues.
Hollingsworth said he was surprised by the reaction surrounding Pullin, and admitted there was a greater need to engage with athletes’ families.
“Some of those external comments were disappointing,” he said.
“People outside of the team throwing comments like that, it’s hardly conducive, there’s a time and a place.”
Despite the funding furore, Hollingsworth stood by Winning Edge, saying it was a structure increasingly being seen in countries that achieved medal success.
He highlighted South Korea and the Netherlands in the speed skating, Great Britain in the skeleton, as well as Belarus and China in the aerials.
“You have to spend your money in a fairly narrow way to get an outcome,” he said.
“We recognise it’s always going to create debate within the sporting sector, but we’re confident it’s the right way.”
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