29 January 2011

AUS Green and Gold Project

Brits on notice as athletes get $2.5m to snare medals@The Australian

A $2.5 MILLION war chest has been assembled to help Australian athletes take medals from their British arch-rivals at next year's London Olympics.

Federal Sports Minister Mark Arbib has redirected the money from the Australian Sports Commission to launch the Green and Gold Project, which will provide extra funding to shore up Australia's position as one of the top five Olympic nations.

Australia dropped out of the top five, to sixth, for the first time in a decade at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when it was replaced by Britain, which came fourth.

Australian Olympic Committee secretary-general Craig Phillips said the most effective way for Australia to climb back up the medal table was to take medals from its direct rivals, Britain and fifth placegetter Germany.

"Every medal we take from them is worth two, because we gain one and they lose one," Mr Phillips said. "We did something similar for the Sydney Olympics, where we were competing with France and Italy."

Australia and Britain will be eyeing the same medals in swimming, track cycling, sailing, rowing and equestrian events.

Individual athletes who have British arch-rivals include Olympic champion diver Matthew Mitcham (world champion Tom Daley), world champion gymnast Lauren Mitchell (Beth Tweddle), international sailor of the year Tom Slingsby (Paul Goodison) and track cyclist Anna Meares (Victoria Pendleton).

Mr Arbib is backing the AOC's bid to return to the top five in London and said the Green and Gold Project would mark a "new push towards London 2012".

"I am an unapologetic supporter of elite sport," Mr Arbib said at the Australian Paralympic Committee president's lunch in Sydney. He has joined AOC president John Coates's cry to "rain on their parade" in London.

The federal government provided $120m of new funding to elite sport last May, but Mr Arbib said the latest boost would provide strategic investment in key Olympic sports "where we think it will make the most difference". He has brought together the ASC, Australian Institute of Sport and AOC to oversee the project.

The 10 sports which will benefit from the funding are: swimming, cycling, rowing, sailing, canoeing, athletics, diving, gymnastics, triathlon and equestrian.

A brains trust of coaches will also attend regular head coach forums, to be chaired by former Australian and British head swimming coach Bill Sweetenham, to share expertise and ideas.

Mr Arbib agreed the funding was "modest" but argued the margin between gold and silver or bronze and fourth was so slim it could be decisive. He is moving responsibility for Australia's high-performance strategy from the ASC bureaucrats to the experts of the Australian Institute of Sport.

He called on the AIS to show national leadership, work more closely with state institutes and reach out to assist leading athletes based outside its Canberra base.

"By empowering the AIS, enhancing its resources and expanding its role we will spearhead our campaign to London," Mr Arbib said.

The AIS has recently reached a $1m deal to extend its research partnership with the CSIRO and will open its European training centre in Varese, Italy, in March.

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