Nienke Podmore interview. Video / George Heard
Olivia Podmore’s mother Nienke was awake in bed this morning trying to absorb the lengthy report into Cycling NZ spurred by the death of her daughter.
Despite being nowhere near through its 120-odd pages, Nienke and her husband Chris Middleton were already filled with anger and frustration at the list of the sporting organisation’s failures detailed in the report.
Failures to recruit suitable coaches, concern over young women traveling up to the Cambridge High Performance Sport NZ base and the center’s future as a fit model for athlete welfare, favoritism towards certain athletes from coaches, and a concerning history of athlete non-disclosure agreements were all covered within it, the couple told the Herald.
The valuing of medals and performance above all else in the Cycling NZ high performance model was also a central criticism in the findings, they said.
“I’m just really sad, because Liv is the cost of this,” Nienke said today.
Podmore, an Olympic cyclist at the Rio Games, died in a suspected suicide last August and the findings of an inquiry into Cycling NZ following her death is due to be released publicly on Monday.
According to the Middletons, the independent report delivered by Mike Heron QC and Massey Professor Sarah Leberman makes it clear that Cycling NZ failed to implement the recommended changes from a previous 2018 inquiry into its culture.
Among the most concerning alleged findings was an admission that Cycling NZ had done a poor job in its recruitment of coaches since the 2018 report.
Since the commissioning of the report, a trio of lead figures – Cycling NZ chief executive Jacques Landry, high performance director Martin Barras, and head sprint coach René Wolff – have resigned from the organisation.
Nienke and Chris Middleton’s opinions on the contents of the report were also colored by a meeting on Friday with Sport NZ chief executive Raelene Castle, Cycling NZ board chairman Phil Holden, Heron and Leberman.
“They were scathing on recruitment [of coaches],” Chris Middleton said of their meeting.
Nienke also said she found some of the answers around the 2016 Bordeaux Cycling NZ training camp controversy “quite scripted” during the meeting, and believed that the report did not properly delve into that incident.
Nienke feels that Bordeaux incident was central to what she believes was the mistreatment of her daughter by Cycling NZ and precipitated the ongoing ostracisation and selection issues she faced during her next four years in the high performance system.
The 2018 Heron review was commissioned in the fallout of the Bordeaux training camp incident in which an inappropriate relationship between Cycling NZ coach Anthony Peden and an athlete was exposed.
Last year, the Herald revealed that Podmore was pressured to lie by Cycling NZ management following the 2016 Bordeaux incident. Podmore was not the athlete in the relationship.
Another aspect of yesterday’s meeting that brought up a great deal of lingering anger for Nienke was the fact it was the first time she had met Castle and Holden in person since her daughter’s death nine months ago.
“We’re still reeling that we were just sent an email following Olivia’s death [from Cycling NZ management].
“That is just horrific. They should have been on our door in the following days.”
On the lack of a personal meeting, Sport NZ says Nienke was invited to a meeting with Castle the day before Olivia’s funeral at which Chris Middleton attended. However, Nienke did not attend.
A medical report on Podmore will be delivered in about the next six weeks and the Middletons say they will be considering their options depending on the findings of that assessment.
The Middletons also said Castle intimated there were plans for some form of public acknowledgment of Podmore’s life in Cambridge in the coming months – but said there were no specific details.
Chris Middleton was also frustrated by the lack of any detail he had yet seen in the new report on the continued employment of former star athletes as Cycling NZ head coaches.
“The fact they keep on going back to ex-athletes to be running kids and a lot of athletes are not nice people. They’re not managers, they’re not nice people, they’re great athletes but that does not make you a great coach or leader of kids,” he said.
“And that absolutely rankles with us because you see it with every other bloody sport, why can’t cycling be a bit smarter.”
But despite Nienke’s anger at many aspects of the report she says the new recommendations look “promising” – but it all depends on their implementation.
Nienke said she has heard that since the beginning of the inquiry, Cycling NZ have proactively improved the level of support they are supplying the current athletes.
One friend of Podmore’s has told Nienke that her daughter “would have loved” the new coach she now has at Cycling NZ.
“I guess the crux of it is that you want to have confidence that they are going to implement the recommendations and follow through, deal with the past, implement the new recommendations and actually do it,” Nienke said.
“Put your money where your mouth is basically, because there’s been talking, so let’s actually see. We know it’s not a five-minute job, people are realistic but, just for the future of New Zealand sport as a whole you know.”
The full report will be released publicly at 2pm this Monday.