Damning new fallout over New Zealand Olympian's tragic death

·Sports Reporter
·4-min read
New Zealand cyclist Olivia Podmore, a representative at the 2016 Olympics, tragically died just days after the completition of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Pictures: Getty Images
New Zealand cyclist Olivia Podmore, a representative at the 2016 Olympics, tragically died just days after the completition of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Pictures: Getty Images

CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses suicide.

An independent review into Cycling New Zealand has found athletes struggled to deal with 'fear of reprisals' in the wake of the death of Olivia Podmore in August last year.

The 24-year-old, who represented New Zealand at the 2016 Rio Olympics, is suspected to have died by suicide.

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Podmore's passing sparked an outpuring of grief and support for her and her family, with athletes around the world left in shock just days after the completition of the Tokyo Olympics.

An independent report into the high-performance system at Cycling New Zealand uncovered a culture in which athletes carried a 'fear of reprisals' for raising concerns in a system that 'prioritises medals over wellbeing'.

The report was commissioned in the weeks after Podmore's passing, and was co-chaired by former NZ solicitor general Mike Heron and Massey University Professor Sarah Leberman.

Supported by former Silver Ferns netballer Dr Lesley Nicol and Olympic rower Genevieve Macky, the report found that, in addition to fears over speaking out and a culture focused on winning, there was a 'risk for athlete wellbeing' at the CNZ base in Cambride.

Traditionally male coaching structures were also found to be unsupportive for female athletes, with a lack of transparancy around the selection process and a lack of women and diversity among the coaching ranks.

Readers seeking support and information can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

The release of the report was welcomed by New Zealand rower Eric Murray, a fellow former Olympian and close friend of Podmore's who said her experiences in cycling were among many factors leading to her death.

“I don’t think a lot of this situation caused Olivia’s death. There’s never just one thing (with suicide)," he said.

"There was a lot going on in her life and this was a big part of it because cycling was a big part of her life.

“But it wasn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back. There were a lot of straws.”

Cycling New Zealand releases crucial report after Olivia Podmore's death

The report, which was publicly launched with High Performance Sport NZ boss Raelene Castle and CNZ chief Phil Holden in attendance along with the report panel, found coaches were recruited with 'too little emphasis on personality, EQ, soft skills and integrity'.

CNZ boss Holden publicly apologised to Podmore and her family for her experience during her years with with the team, which dated back as far as 2016.

“The most important finding is that a number of people have unresolved trauma from events that Cycling’s High-Performance Programme in 2016 and subsequently,” Holden said.

“Olivia Podmore was clearly part of that group. We apologise to the Podmore family for their loss and the hurt and grief they continue to experience.”

All findings from the report have been accepted by Cycling New Zealand.

Cycling NZ chairman Phil Holden offered a public apology to Olivia Podmore and her family after the release of a damning report into the sport's culture. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
Cycling NZ chairman Phil Holden offered a public apology to Olivia Podmore and her family after the release of a damning report into the sport's culture. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Determined to ensure this report would be the last of its kind in NZ cycling, Holden said he hoped the organisation could be a part of a 'process to address the trauma' for those who had suffered it.

“We are starting to turn a corner...but we have a long way to go,” he said.

“We are going to review everything. It’s all on the table. We are not going to rest. We want this to be the last cycling inquiry.”

Murray said a key change had to be a change in culture which would allow athetes, particularly those in the early stages of their careers, to raise concerns without fearing it could be the end of their dreams.

“When I was a young athlete you didn’t want to rock the boat. You didn’t want to be looked upon as the troublemaker even though you’re not being the troublemaker," he said.

“Sh** like that has to change. That’s not acceptable in this day and age.”

Readers seeking support and information can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

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