Cycling NZ physio told head coaches she wouldn’t ‘fabricate clinical findings’ prior to Tokyo Olympics controversy

A Cycling NZ team physio told head coaches during the Tokyo Olympics that she would not “fabricate clinical findings” prior to a rider swap that broke the event’s rules.

Sources have told the Herald they believe the swap had been planned for months before cyclists competed in Tokyo last year.

The swap’s breach of International Olympic Committee rules led to the resignation of Cycling NZ high performance director Martin Barras on November 26 last year after an independent inquiry.

The details of Cycling NZ team physios and doctors informing Barras and head sprint coach Rene Wolff during the Tokyo Olympics that they would not fabricate their medical findings prior to the rider swap have never been made public until now.

On Monday, the findings of a separate inquiry into culture at Cycling NZ that was commissioned after the death of Olympian Olivia Podmore on August 9 will be delivered.

The independent report, led by Mike Herron QC and Massey University Professor Sarah Leberman, has been beset by several delays since it was commissioned on August 19, 2021. It aims to determine whether recommendations were properly implemented after another 2018 inquiry into Cycling NZ that found a “lack of accountability and sub-optimal leadership” within the organisation.

Olympic team physio Rone Thompson was approached to sign off on an apparent injury to Cycling NZ rider Sam Dakin during the Tokyo games by high performance director Martin Barras and track sprint coach Rene Wolff, the Herald has been told.

“I made it clear to Rene Wolff and Martin Barras that neither I, nor the team doctor, would fabricate clinical findings.  I was never pressured to do so or threatened,” Thompson told the Herald.

Thompson says she treated a cyclist who exhibited distress during the Tokyo Olympic races.

The Herald understands the physio’s treatment of Dakin occurred after she had made it clear to Wolff and Barras she would not fabricate clinical findings.

“When an athlete came off the track showing signs of distress, the athlete was treated accordingly. The UCI medical team was informed in line with standard protocols, and declared the athlete unfit to compete,” Thompson said.

Cycling NZ chief executive Jacques Landry, who has also resigned since the Tokyo Olympics, described the process of Cycling NZ leadership self-reporting the incident to the New Zealand Olympic Committee.

“After the Games team returned, I became aware of a possible integrity breach that had occurred during one of the cycling events,” Landry said.

“I immediately carried out a preliminary investigation. That led me to alert the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC), which has jurisdiction over the New Zealand Team at Olympic Games. They then undertook an independent investigation which found that both its and Cycling New Zealand’s Codes of Conduct had been breached.”

Landry said in the Cycling NZ statement while Barras was not directly involved in the incident, as director he was ultimately responsible for the conduct of the New Zealand Cycling Team at the Olympic Games.

High Performance Sport NZ chief executive Raelene Castle has subsequently told the Herald she fully supports team physio Rone Thompson, when questioned about the events that led up to the rule-breaking rider swap at Tokyo.

“Rone Thompson is a valued and trusted member of the HPSNZ Performance Health Team.  She has always performed her role in a manner consistent with her professional obligations, but also with the integrity that is expected of our staff,” Castle said.

Detail of what was actually scrutinised by barrister Don Mackinnon during the independent investigation he was commissioned to undertake into the Tokyo Games integrity breach by NZOC has never been made public.

The swap was for New Zealand men’s track sprint cyclist Sam Dakin with Callum Saunders. Dakin had been selected to race in the Tokyo Olympic squad but Saunders was only listed a reserve rider.

Dakin was swapped with Saunders during the Men’s Team Sprint races. Saunders then went on to also race in Dakin’s place in the Keirin event.

Dakin left mid-way through the men’s sprint event races, after reporting he was injured.

The Herald understands this rider swap was planned for months before the Tokyo Olympics.

Numerous sources within the Cycling NZ camp have told the Herald they were aware of a rumour circulating for months prior to the Tokyo Olympics there was a plan to swap Dakin for Saunders during the Olympics.

The Herald understands Barras and Wolff wanted to get both track riders in the team to race in Tokyo and believed one would be better as a rider in the men’s team sprint, and the other would better for the Keirin event.

The two coaches were, however, restricted in the number of riders they could select for the Olympic events.

The pair of sprinters were described by one Cycling NZ athlete as Wolff’s “favourites by a country mile”  in the men’s track team.

“They would get whatever they wanted in the team, whereas you would basically be cast aside. I think it lingers back to Rene had his favourites and they were his two favourites in the team,” the Cycling NZ source said.

A second Cycling NZ athlete that spoke to the Herald about the swap said: “It was an initial plan that was put in place … a long time out [from the Tokyo Olympics]”.

Cycling NZ sprinter Sam Dakin refused to comment to the Herald on the allegation there had been a plan months out from the Olympics for him to be swapped with Saunders.

“This issue has already been the subject of a full confidential independent inquiry commissioned by the NZOC, and subsequent action by both NZOC and Cycling NZ. There is nothing further I can add,” Dakin told the Herald.

Details of the inquiry’s findings have not been released publicly.

The New Zealand men’s team sprint finished seventh out of eight competing countries in the Tokyo Games.

Saunders finished equal 13th in the keirin event he was swapped into.

Barras resigned from Cycling NZ on November 26 for this “integrity breach” after the incident was reported to the New Zealand Olympic Committee by Cycling NZ management themselves.

Barrister and experienced sports director Don Mackinnon conducted an independent investigation into the integrity breach.

According to a Cycling NZ statement, Mackinnon determined the process to replace an athlete during a cycling event at Tokyo 2020 had not been conducted according to IOC and UCI rules.

Cycling NZ and the New Zealand Olympic Committee has never provided any detail on the “integrity breach” against IOC rider swap rules that led to Barras’ resignation.

NZOC told the Herald the Mackinnon report would not be made public in order to respect those who took part and follow the terms of the investigation.

Mackinnon also told the Herald he could not comment on the content of the report, when contacted.

In the November 26 announcement of the findings of the Mackinnon report, NZOC said: “The investigation took place under conditions of confidentiality and anonymity for the interviewees involved and respect for those unfairly impacted by the breach. As such, the report will not be released publicly.”

On November 27, 2021, the Herald reported serious allegations against former Cycling NZ coaches Barras and Wolff, which included training methods that were detrimental to athletes’ mental health and unfair team selections that were based on favouritism.

On December 6, Cycling NZ head sprint coach Rene Wolff also resigned.

The resignations of Landry, Barras, and Wolff have all come during the separate independent inquiry into culture at Cycling NZ after the death of Rio Olympian Olivia Podmore in a suspected suicide.

Olivia Podmore’s mother, Nienke, met with Sport NZ chief executive Raelene Castle and authors of the second Cycling NZ report into culture, Mike Heron and Sarah Leberman, on Friday to discuss its findings ahead of its release on Monday.

The Podmore family will be provided an embargoed version of the report before it is released publicly.

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