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What's the AIS without athletes and scientists?

Posted: 20/5/2018

What's the AIS without athletes and scientists?

Over the last decade or so, I have watched the Australian Institute of Sport become a ghost town under the guidance of a number of different directors.

Each new director comes with a new vision and a new direction. Lots of money gets spent and lots of people spend lots of time formulating new directions, new policies and a whole new way of thinking. People get fired, less people get hired, programs and athletes are relocated, new targets are set and everyone crosses their fingers that this brand new approach will translate into medals.

Well, it hasn't worked and, on the rare occasion when I visit the AIS now (pretty much only for external events hiring the facilities) the place is a ghost town. Head out there today and I challenge you to find an athlete anywhere. And AIS staff working out in the gym don't count! In fact, there's not even many of them left. I believe the new AIS director, Peter Conde, lives in Brisbane and many of the senior managers (Australian Sports Commission and AIS) are also based interstate.

The news today that the AIS is set to undergo yet another transformation sadly comes as no surprise. What IS surprising is the alleged plan to get rid of the Sports Science and Sports Medicine departments and the staff.

So, what is the AIS without athletes and scientists? A white elephant, a home ground for the Brumbies and the Raiders, a world-class training venue for weekend warriors and kids learning how to do triathlon and accommodation for school groups visiting Parliament House.

Don't get me wrong. . these are worthy roles but they should NOT be the only roles the AIS has left to play.

I spent 15 years as an AIS scholarship holder. It was my second home as I honed my off-snow athlete skills and trained my body to be faster, stronger, fitter. I had sessions with psychologists that stayed with me throughout my sporting career, gained knowledge and techniques I use even today.

I remember walking around the dining hall, incredulous that I got to eat in the same room as athletes like Michael Klim, Andrew Gaze and Cathy Freeman. I used to sprint against Alexander Popov when he was doing his warm up laps, blissfully unaware of his win.

Back then the AIS was lauded the world over for the knowledge shared between sports, for its expertise and innovation, for the amazing results across a number of sports. It truly was a centre for excellence and you could feel it as you walked through the complex. Real, elite athletes actually trained there and, as a young 19 year old just setting out on my ski racing career, I know that I was inspired just by working out in the same gym as them.

I get that sport has changed but has it really changed so much that we no longer need a national centre of excellence? Let the sports be managed by the national sporting organisations, let the athletes train closer to home. But don't underestimate the potential for building and sharing knowledge and techniques in a central location focused on sporting innovation and excellence.

And never ever underestimate the effect a world-class athlete who has a string of medals to his or her name can have on a young kid just starting out.

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