Tokyo Olympic Games 2020: Top athlete left broken as report slams Triathlon NZ

New Zealand’s triathlon team to compete at the Tokyo Olympics will be officially named on Tuesday but the fallout from the process that has been described by one source as “nonsense” will continue to reverberate around the sport.

As first reported by the Herald, athletes in the high-performance programme were notified in March whether they were being nominated to the Olympic team, but it was not made official due to a range of appeals and an embarrassing selection ombudsman report that told Triathlon New Zealand to go back to the table because they hadn’t followed their own criteria.

The selection team – Richard Wells, Bevan Docherty, Ken McLaren, Greg Fraine, and Shanelle Barrett – did so and stayed with their original four.

It is understood that Hayden Wilde, Tayler Reid, Ainsley Thorpe, and Nicole van der Kaay will make up the four-person team to compete in both individual and mixed relay disciplines in Tokyo.

Sam Ward, whose appeal against non-selection triggered considerable angst in the triathlon community, has again missed out and has subsequently made himself unavailable to travel as a reserve.

The Herald wanted to discuss the issue with Ward but he declined, though an intermediary said the process had left the 26-year-old Auckland athlete “broken” and disillusioned with the sport.

It is understood Sophie Corbidge and Rebecca Spence also appealed their non-selection but were unsuccessful and while they had grounds to be disappointed, a source said the situation with Ward was particularly “troubling”.

Triathlon New Zealand CEO Clair Beard said she was unable to comment on the appeals or the selections but said the situation could not be troubling because “we afford all our athletes the ability to appeal the process and we followed that process. It’s difficult to say anything other than that”.

“There is an extensive process available to all athletes. They’re the processes we stand behind and we’re comfortable in affording the athletes that opportunity,” said Beard.

“We care about all our athletes are we’re really excited about the team we’re naming.”

When the athletes were originally notified of their Olympic nomination status, Ward was the second-ranked New Zealand men’s triathlete by a considerable margin.

Boosted by support from fellow athletes, Ward appealed the decision, which went to Tri NZ ombudsman Andrew Skelton.

In an ignominious report, Skelton sent the decision back to the selectors, noting that they had failed to respect their own selection criteria with regards to Ward. In effect, that they had cherry-picked results at a cost to Ward.

The ombudsman recommended to: “… refer the matter back to the [the selection committee] to undertake the nomination process again in accordance with the Nomination Policy, which will involve, in respect of each athlete in the Selection Pool, giving proper, genuine and realistic consideration to, and weighing, all the [mixed relay] criteria in Schedule 1, and considering any extenuating circumstances in accordance with clause 6 as part of the consideration of each athlete at the time that the criteria under clause 5.1(b) are considered.”

The disputed point in 5.1(b) was the line that the athlete must have attained two top-eight results in qualification events and the athlete must be able to show they can contribute to a medal in the mixed relay.

Ward’s camp pointed to the fact he had the top-eight results in the individual and that the only time he had competed in the mixed relay, New Zealand had medalled in a strong field at Abu Dhabi.

The committee re-released its nominations and Ward was again on the outer, saying they didn’t have enough evidence of Ward’s ability to contribute to a relay medal in comparison to the others on the team, who raced most of the events.

“It just makes a nonsense of the process,” the triathlon source, who wanted to remain anonymous due to potential repercussions, said.

Ward began the procedures involved in appealing to the Sports Disputes Tribunal, but when a hearing was not available until June decided that it would be counterproductive for everybody involved to pursue his case according to the intermediary.

Wilde is New Zealand’s top-ranked triathlete and Reid was part of the team that won bronze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games along with the since-retired Ryan Sissons, Andrea Hewitt and van der Kaay.

The team will be announced via a media advisory issued by the NZOC on Tuesday.

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