Concerned parents come forward in the wake of Olivia Podmore tragedy

Concerned parents of some of the country's top young cyclists have come forward to share their experiences and their fears in the wake of the tragic death of former Olympic rider Olivia Podmore.

The 24-year-old died suddenly on Monday, after delivering pointed criticism of Cycling New Zealand and High Performance Sport New Zealand.

It's prompted claims of a "sick" culture that treats athletes like a commodity.

The close-knit Cambridge community is rallying together with a permanent mark of respect in memory of their friend and former Olympian, Olivia Podmore - someone Ray Sheath knows well.

His daughter Racquel Sheath was involved in the high-performance cycling programme alongside her up until August last year.

"They come to Cambridge thinking that this is the place where their dreams can be achieved," he tells Newshub.

"But the environment is so sterile and cut-throat, that it's not an enjoyable place."

Sheath took to Facebook this afternoon to voice his frustration, calling out the "trail of destruction" it's left over many years.

"Self-esteem at an all-time low and I've been on the sidelines picking up some of these athletes over the last six or seven years," he adds.

Those sentiments are shared by other parents whose children have been part of the Cycling New Zealand programme.

In a post on Facebook, one mother said: "Cycling New Zealand your culture is sick. You treat athletes like they are a commodity."

That one daughter returned from Cambridge "broken", "her self-esteem smashed", and "her mana was stripped".

But officials believe the environment has changed since the Heron Review into the culture of Cycling New Zealand in 2018.

"We've implemented, with the team, all the recommendations that came out of the review," Cycling NZ chief executive Jacques Landry says.

"Is it perfect at the moment? No it's not," concedes Sport New Zealand chief executive Raelene Castle.

"Are there improvements to make? Absolutely."

And a leading sports sociologist says the biggest improvement needs to come at a higher level - changing the funding model for High Performance Sport.

"Sports organisations, and therefore coaches know they need to bring home medals and get international results to ensure the sustainability of funding through the government," Holly Thorpe tells Newshub.

But she says that's not the be-all and end-all, and officials need to listen to those suffering the consequences.

"There's been a number of athletes calling out for change. If anything, now is the moment we must create this change.

"We cannot lose any more athletes to sporting environments that aren't looking after them."

For now, Cambridge locals are focused on looking after each other in the hope others can one day benefit from the change a community is demanding in the wake of a tragedy. 

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