Loss of identity
Young boxers Isaac Martin, left, and Adrian Farquhar sparring at the AIS. Photo: Graham Tidy
Australia ''shut the door on a generation of Olympic medal prospects'', dropped the ball on talent identification and Jason Gulbin hopes the London disaster triggers a turnaround in a program that has been neglected for a decade.
A week after the Australian Sports Commission delivered its plan for the future, AIS athlete pathway development boss Gulbin has slammed sporting officials for their ''dysfunctional'' and ''preposterous'' approach to wasting funds and failure to develop untapped talent in the country.
And while the ASC is yet to tick off on a plan to lift Australia into the top five Olympic tally, Gulbin has started to map out a way to chase more than 50 medals in sports traditionally shunned by big funding - judo, wrestling, boxing and taekwondo.
Kayaking gold medallist Jacob Clear. Photo: Ben Rushton
The only problem is his staffing has dropped from 16 to just three in recent years and funding almost disappeared.
But he says now is the time to plan for the future and is oozing excitement after the ASC outlined its Winning Edge program last week with a focus on talent identification and handing national sporting organisations more responsibility and accountability.
Gulbin hated watching Australia struggle at the London Olympics earlier this year.
London silver medallist Brittany Broben. Photo: Getty Images
''But the sports system got exactly what it deserved. Thankfully the results were poor because now people can't dig their heels in and maintain the status quo,'' Gulbin told The Canberra Times.
''It's at the point where those performances are indefensible; no one can say we shouldn't change.
''It was dysfunctional and preposterous the way sports wasted money and how much of a lack of accountability there was. Now is the time to make things right.''
London rowing medallist Kim Crow. Photo: Getty Images
The ASC is implementing a radical restructure to try to rebuild Australia's international success.
It's all part of a 10-year strategic plan putting more onus on sports to perform rather than relying on the AIS.
But part of that is in Gulbin's domain with a talent-identification camp to be hosted next year and the resurrection of a program he's been trying to build for 13 years.
The camp looks for ''shouting'' talent - the obvious physical traits that suit individual sports through bio, socio and psycho tests.
They then test for the ''whispering'' talent and ''mongrel factor''.
In 2009 the National Talent ID program was all but abolished. Despite having a success rate of 25 per cent of athletes representing Australia at junior or senior level, it was cut.
The $20.8 million funding from 2006-09 disappeared and so did the staff, with just three of the 16 full-time workers remaining.
Just $2 million of sport's $170 million funding has been allocated to talent ID in the new system and Gulbin describes it as pocket money.
More details are expected to be finalised by the end of the year with Gulbin still unsure whether staff numbers and funding will increase further.
Gulbin watched with pain in London.
He wanted Australia to perform on the world stage.
But deep down he knew the only catalyst for change was a disastrous result.
''Talent ID is not sexy to most people; everyone wants to focus on the pointy end of sport,'' Gulbin said.
''But through experience, I know if you get the right mix you will get people into medals left, right and centre.
''Of course there's no guarantee … but in the past we've been too concerned about keeping sports happy rather than performance.
''After London and with Matt [Favier] in charge at the AIS and Simon [Hollingsworth] at the ASC, a 20-year-old message is finally being heard because we've got people willing to be a bit more innovative.''
One of the innovations is a focus on a ''combat centre'' where boxing, judo, taekwondo and wrestling can share resources to chase medals.
Australia's major focus at the Olympics in the past has been swimming, rowing, team sports and individual brilliance in athletics.
But if Australia wants to achieve the Winning Edge goals of rising into the top five, Gulbin says it's time to diversify.
In the combat sports there are more than 50 medals available across weight divisions and different disciplines. The challenge now is to find the talent capable of earning a spot on the podium.
That's where Gulbin hopes to use universities, physical education teachers and club coaches from around Australia to identify potential athletes.
''We've never tackled combat sport today … we see the idea of a combat centre as a way how those sports can attract new funding and management,'' he said.
''We've done talent ID in rowing, cycling and canoeing and we'll continue to do that because it works.
''But we've got to find new areas where we can make the top five in medals … this is about serious long-term planning and it has to start now with a view to 2020 and 2024.''
Queanbeyan's Megan Marcks was one of the pioneers for the talent identification program.
A talent ID day at her school in 1988 prompted her to try rowing for the first time and she went on to win a gold medal in the coxless pair at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
London gold medal winner in the K4 kayak, Jacob Clear, dual rowing medal winner Kim Crow and diving silver medallist Brittany Broben are all products of talent identification programs.
Clear was in surf lifesaving before his dad picked up an AIS talent pamphlet.
Crow was in athletics before she took the initiative to try a switch to rowing and was supported by the AIS.
Broben was a gymnast and surprised everyone with her superb rise to the podium in London.
The trio is evidence the system works. But after a funding dropoff and limited resources, Gulbin said ''I would be reduced to tears'' if he contemplated how many medals Australia missed by failing to invest in talent ID.
''It's a scary thought … when the NTID was cut we said no one would know what we did until it got to the point where Australia suffered,'' Gulbin said. ''What we do now will yield results in 2016 and beyond for sure … the ones still in the system are kicking arse.
''But when it closed down, it shut the door to a generation of opportunities. It has without a doubt cost Australia medals, expertise in staffing and coaches.
''But I can see the light and it's beckoning. If we can avoid these massive gaps in pathways and talent pool that drops off, if the talent can be nurtured it will yield results if the sports hold the course now.''