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Baumann brings OTP experience to New Zealand job

Two-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Alex Baumann says Canada will need between 22 and 26 medals to finish 12th place or higher. Photo by Yvonne Berg /THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Yvonne Berg/The Globe and Mail

Alex Baumann sounded a familiar refrain when he unveiled plans as the newly minted chief executive of High Performance Sports New Zealand (HPSNZ).

He won't settle for mediocrity.

He expected excellence of himself as an Olympic swimmer, and the former head of Canada's Own the Podium plan expects to coax results from the island nation of the south. He's not starting from scratch. He has a budget of just over $50-million (Canadian) and an Auckland-based high performance centre – and everything he learned in five years at Own the Podium and 15 years building the Australian system in Queensland.

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On the job since the end of January, Baumann oversees nine sports organizations (funded by HPSNZ) and six of them are Olympic sports. Less than five months before the London Olympics, it's too much to expect a big impact for those Games. Baumann is planning ahead for 2016 in Rio de Janeiro and for the 2020 Games.

But already, former World Cup rugby coach Graham Henry is on board to train coaches – Henry will start with sailing – and he will make the rounds of track and field, cycling, swimming, rowing and triathlon. Kiwi athletes, meanwhile, are targeting either the podium or a top-16 placing at the London Games. Sports that don't come up to standard can see their funds chopped.

"We have to make some hard decisions on resources in terms of who gets supported," Baumann told the Reuters news agency in an interview. It was a copy of the no-nonsense talk he gave when he came to head summer sport in Canada.

"We don't have enough resources to support everyone to achieve those quality outcomes. I don't think we will ever have those resources to be able to do that, but I do think sports need to know where they fit and what kind of criteria we need," he said. Sports need to show they are worthy of public dollars.

"We are giving away significant funds and the sports have to be accountable for those funds," said the 47-year-old Baumann.

New Zealand has a smaller population than Canada, but then again there are fewer sports to fund. International travel is costly, but domestic travel is cheaper. Creativity is called for.

"There is a willingness to think outside the box in terms of what has to be done," Baumann said. "It's a small country and that's actually a competitive advantage because it's quite easy to get all the people together..."

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The HPSNZ philosophy borrows from both Own the Podium and from Baumann's own performances. Forget Sport Canada's old broad-based mediocrity, of supplying sport for all people. The attitude that Canadians showed when they won more Winter Olympic golds than any country in history is that there's no obstacle between then and the top podium that can't be overcome by proper preparation and mindset.

"For me, high performance isn't about egalitarianism," Baumann said, echoing his Canadian mantra. "I believe that we can compete with the best in the world and in a number of sports New Zealand have done that. But they need to aim high."

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