Wikinews interviews Michael Hartung, the Australian Deputy Chef de Mission

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Michael Hartung (right) and Kate MacLoughlin (left) at an Australian Paralympic Committee press conference earlier in the game
Image: Laura Hale.

London, England — Yesterday, Wikinews interviewed Michael Hartung, the Australian Deputy Chef de Mission at the Australian team quarters in the Paralympic Village.

((Hawkeye7)) What does the Deputy Chef de Mission do?

Michael Hartung: Makes the chef look good! (laughter) No, my role here is in support of our Chef de Mission and the team. There's two of us, myself, and Kate McLoughlin is the other Deputy Chef de Mission. She focuses on the operations side of things, the logistics and travel and all that sort of stuff, the foundations of preparing the team and really getting here and back home safely with all their gear. The part of the team that I look after is the performance side of things, so in my particular area I have guys in the sports science and sports medicine grew, which is managed by Alison Campbell. We have classification in my area which is managed by Geoff Han. We've got high performance and coach support, which is Chris Nunn, and the media guys fit under my side of things, and they are managed by Tim Mannion. All of those guys are all staff at the APC, and they've been working with us for a considerable amount of time. They are all experts in their areas so as far as the performance elements of the team are concerned we've got a great bunch of people that come in here and its a continuation of the the job that we prepare for and that we do every day. So that's been good, we're not a bunch of outsiders who've come together just for this team. We're professionals who work in these fields, doing these jobs day in and day out, so we should be experts when we get to the games in how it should be delivered.

((LauraHale)) Is everything going according to plan for you guys? You've got more gold medals than you got in Beijing.

Michael Hartung: Yep. Still not there yet in total but we're happy. Our goal coming into this, one main goal was to finish top five, and we're just hanging on. It's tough. That's the reality of Olympic sport. We're having a really good games at the moment. The sub goal of ours was to just beat the medal tally at Beijing which we've achieved on gold, which is terrific, and we should achieve on total as well if things keep going the way they are for the next couple of days. That's a terrific result and it just shows the strength of the Paralympic movement, and the strength of our competitors that there are so many nations fighting it out to be in that top five, and we're certainly not there by any means. The nation that's just behind us, the USA, is a traditional powerhouse of Paralympic sport, and a nation that has done extremely well over the history of Paralympic sport. So where we are right now is in a really good position and if we stay where we are now, and pick up a few more medals, we'll be really happy with the performance of the team and where it's gone on the medal tally.

((LauraHale)) In the lead up to this there was a lot of coverage of how much money the government gave you for stuff like the recovery centre inside here. How fundamental has that government support been towards this?

Michael Hartung: The Federal government provides us with basically all the funding that we give to the sport programs to deliver sport programs to athletes. And without the Federal government's support, we cannot do the job that we do. It is essential, and without their investment we certainly wouldn't be seeing the results that we have here. That been said we've also had great support in addition to funding from ministers and senators that have come across here and supported the team. Senator Kate Lundy is here. She's departing tonight, but has been here for most of the games. It's been terrific for us and the team to have had that sort of support for us here.

((LauraHale)) Classification has been a big issue in these games. To an extent the Americans lost some... Oscar's classification's been a big deal... There hasn't been much Australian news related to classifications.

Michael Hartung: No, which is a really good sign. I think that shows all the work we've put in over the years to classification. We've got a program that's been led by Jim MacMahon that we consider to be a world leading program. Which means that our policies and procedures and our work at a national level to ensure that people know where they fit in the classification spectrum, and no doubt early on is very important to us. So we minimise the risk of an athlete turning up and having a change in classification. This is really the Big Show. This is where it really matters, and for athletes to come here and not be 100% sure about their classification is something that we absolutely want to avoid. We should know where they sit, and there is a lot of money that is now invested through Federal funding and through the states' institutes and academies and so on. A lot of money gets invested and we need some surety about where that investment is going, and which athletes are prospects for medals when they turn up.

((LauraHale)) We've talked to the Oceania people who've said they've got tremendous support from the APC with the Wales thing. Are you guys going to continue to do that support? Because they couldn't say enough nice things about the APC and the coaches talking to their athletes.

Michael Hartung: Yeah, that's terrific. I think that we certainly have an ongoing role that we have played and continue to play in Oceania in helping those countries really develop. New Zealand's doing great and they're certainly self-sufficient, and here as a great sporting nation, but for some of our other, smaller neighbors, it's great that we've been able to provide support. We've provided opportunities for them to come and be part of the Cardiff staging environment we set up for our team. We started preparations for that back in 2007. So they joined us there, and hopefully that's helped then achieve their great results here, with Fiji winning a gold medal. That's a tremendous achievement for Oceania as a whole, not just Fiji, and that's been terrific to know that the staging camp has assisted with that, along with the other support that we provide. We helped establish the Oceania Paralympic Committee not so long ago. We have Paul Bird, one of our Vice Presidents, as the President of the Oceania Paralympic Committee, and so we have a really close working relationship with those nations. It's terrific to see them succeed, and to be successful.

((LauraHale)) Have you had a chance to see many of your athletes compete? And has there been any performance that has really stood out, Australian or not Australian?

Michael Hartung: Yeah! I've been fortunate to see a lot of our guys compete, right across the board. There's many, many highlights for me. I don't think there's been one stand out performance. Natalie Smith getting a bronze medal to get us underway on the first day was such an incredible achievement, knowing where the shooting program was four or five years ago, not really being able to crack the medals, and to finally do it here in the first event, and to be the first medal was wonderful. Jacqui Freney's performances here to win seven gold medals has been amazing, and she's had a great meet here. Matt Cowdrey breaking the record and becoming the athlete to win the most gold medals for Australia has been a real achievement. But then seeing some of the things we've seen on the track and track cycling, Michael Gallagher and the other guys, they've had a great performance here at the games, incredibly well, and I think the most satisfying element of all of those performances is knowing the work that's gone into supporting those athletes from the the people around them, but the work that those individual athletes have put into achieving success, because coming here, you can see that this is an elite sporting environment, and only the best in the world will achieve success, and you don't become the best by doing it half arsed; you have to give it 150%, and that's what it takes. No one wins unless they do that.

((LauraHale)) Anything else that we should know?

Michael Hartung: Apart from what we've just spoken about, I think that the London Organising Committee has done a terrific job with these games. They've made a sensational environment. Every games has its challenges, but the challenges here have been quite minor, and haven't caused any major disruptions. It enabled us to create an environment here which is really performance based. That's what the Australian Paralympic Committee is working on all the time is to create the best environment for our athletes. So that's been great. The crowds here have been tremendous and the support of the British public, and that started long ago with the acknowledgment of both Olympic and Paralympic. Whenever they say things, they say "Olympic and Paralympic". It's not been just about one games, primarily the Olympic Games or whatever, and that's been really good in terms of the psyche of the British people, because they know about Paralympic sport. They're a very knowledgeable audience, and that's been really great for the crowds here. They've cheered really loudly for the British athletes, but they've also been giving all the other athletes a big cheer as well, which is wonderful. And taking away from these games, the crowd, and the involvement and the support of all the athletes that have competed has been wonderful.
Full audio of the interview with Hartung, assistant Chef de Mission for Australia while in London


This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.