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Q+A: Transcript of Kerry Spackman interview

Published: 3:25PM Sunday July 08, 2012 Source: Q+A


Let's start with the Olympic team. Practically, what do you do with them that's going to help them get this magical medal total?

KERRY SPACKMAN - Best-Selling Author

So, at the moment, what I'm doing is I'm working on a programme called Gold Mine, which is half funded by Sir Stephen Tindall and half funded by High Performance Sport New Zealand, and what we've tried to do is bring back Formula 1 type technology into New Zealand sport. The trouble with sport is it's moved on. It's no longer just being motivated and being a hard worker. You have to have technology, and New Zealand was lagging behind. So I've assembled what I think are some of the best programmers and electronic engineers in the world, and we've got them together, and we've developed our own in-house electronics and software tools which we hide inside our athletes and various bits and pieces. And we've manufactured close on 450 pieces of equipment which are now deployed over in Europe.

GREG Like what? What have you got? Sensors and sneakers and shoes and running arms? What have you actually got?

KERRY Yeah, it is a bit secret squirrel. Yeah, secret squirrel, because we want to keep a competitive advantage. But, you know, if you look at some of the overseas teams, like the US or the UK particularly, they have backing of very big organisations. You know, Boeing and so on. So we make our own equipment. And I don't really want to tell you too much, but, for example, if Ali Shanks' tonsils twitch, we'll know about it while she's riding her bike.

GREG Not very much I can say to that, about Ali's tonsils. You're talking about things, presumably- I know cycling is a big focus, rowing's a big focus, kayaking's a big focus. Those all have gear, equipment - bicycles, boats, whatever. With things like running and jumping, is there only so much you can do?

KERRY Good question. So, the point is we focused on those sports because those are the ones most likely to medal and also because they have equipment involved. But there's no reason why we can't move into things like running, shot-put etc. But we thought they would be tier two, they would be heading towards the following Olympics.

GREG $180 million invested over the past couple of years. Is that enough? It sounds like an awful lot of money for a country of four million people, but is it enough?

KERRY It's a huge amount of money, and I think, for me, the most important point is how efficiently we spend that money. So, sometimes we spend money on things which I don't think are that good, and I think one of the big focuses now is how do we narrow that down. For me, it's all about what is the intervention that we do, and what is the outcome? So I want to be really scientific. So you spend $1. What has it actually done for the athlete and how has it changed them? Can you measure both of those things?

GREG Given that and given that $180 million and time and money you've spent and invested, presumably you'll have a formula of a success, of the amount of medals that should come back. What is it?

KERRY Um, that's not my job, unfortunately. High Performance Sport will say how much they think. My job is to really give the athletes and the coaches the very best technology to get that result.

GREG Let's compare us to Australia. It's the obvious comparison. Do we have a winning attitude compared to them? Put aside the size, put aside the money. Do we have the attitude?

KERRY Um, in some ways, yes, and in some ways, no. I think that's fair to say. I think in some aspects, we approach things - I know we're a small country - but we approach things on a short-term basis. And I'm very much involved in how do you put the infrastructure together to ensure you have success. And Australia has done a very good job on that with their institute. So we're trying to catch up on that. We were really lacking on that. We really were. So a big thrust for me is the infrastructure around how do put all the pieces together so you have a legacy, you keep building? So you don't just wait for the odd Valerie to come along and throw the ball out of the park. You have a process that you can build on.

GREG What about our national psyche? Is it an attitudinal thing? 'Oh, we're only small. We're down at the bum end of the world.' Some of that comes into it, doesn't it?

KERRY I don't think that's so much the problem. We've got a good attitude. Look at our All Blacks. They front up. They've got a good attitude. You look at some of our other athletes, they have a very good attitude. I think it's more the support around them that's been lacking. Our athletes work pretty hard. You look at Mahe Drysdale. He's got a pretty good attitude. He's a top guy.

GREG What about our politicians? I know this is a little bit out of your realm. Do they have a winning attitude, or is it again like Australia? 'They're big. They've got minerals. We'll never catch them.'

KERRY That's something I'm actually quite passionate about. So, as well as being involved in sport, I'm also very passionate about philosophy and the thoughts that you run through your head. Because I think there is an overlap. The thoughts you run through your head determine who you are and how successful you are. I think with our politicians, again this is just my personal opinion, we take a lot of the easy questions. So, for example, there's the big topic at the moment about people with alcohol abuse. Ok, so there's all sorts of things around the edges that we do about legislation. For me, I want to know what's going on inside the people's brains that are going out and getting drunk every night, who are going out and pulling society apart. I really want to know, as a nation, what is our philosophy going forward in terms of everyone seems to be thinking about, 'What's in it for me?' This is our celebrity culture, all this type of stuff. But we really seem to lack a thought process for what we're part of society. Now, these are difficult questions to deal with. They're very hard to legislate, of course, so politicians tend to ignore them. But if you look back to old societies, Greece when it was at its heyday, you had the philosophers who were influencing the politicians, and you had your Plato and Socrates and so on. And all throughout the history of mankind, philosophy, the thought processes that unite a society are really crucial. So I'm really passionate about that. And I'm heading up to London in a couple of weeks, and I'm hoping to meet some very influential people there, because I think these bigger issues need to be brought back to the table.

GREG Bringing that back to Olympics and London and medals and so forth, apart from the people who win the medals and us puffing our chests for a while, how is that beneficial to a nation's psyche?

KERRY It is beneficial, but not in the right way. It's a bit like a sugar rush. You feel good for a short moment, and then- You know, the World Cup was great. We all basked in the glory of our guys winning. But six months later, the same problems still exist. Households still have trouble with budgets. There's crime still going on. So those are nice things to have, but, for me, they're not central.

GREG All right. Dr Kerry Spackman, thank you so much for your time.

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