Olympic gold medals are won by nothing if not perfect timing. And when the teenage yachting sensation Olivia Price came along, the Australian sailing movement was ready.
The 19-year-old yachtswoman was today due to take to the water at Weymouth in a bid for yet another Australian sailing gold medal. The success of the sailing team amid a sea of generally disappointing results at the London Games has been fortunate but not lucky. And her sport proudly admits it has been expensive.
Happily for Price, who sails in the Elliott six-metre class, when she was still in primary school, Yachting Australia had done the Olympic soul-searching that so many Australian sports have now begun. After the world champion-loaded Olympic sailing team failed to win a medal in Athens in 2004, the sport at its elite level was stripped back and radically redesigned.
The former president of the St Kilda Football Club, Andrew Plympton, was appointed chairman of Yachting Australia. Plympton persuaded the Australian Sports Commission and then chairman, Peter Bartels, to increase sailing's funding. He secured Boston Consulting's Peter Conde to design a gold-medal plan that led to the creation of a high-performance company - Australian Sailing Team - which ran independently from the blazer-clad types of the not-for-profit Yachting Australia.
''Every junior world champion and every sailor who stood on a podium in Athens was completely dissected,'' said Plympton. ''We investigated their background, what system they came from - everything.''
Twenty sailing ''white knights'' came on board as patrons. Chaired by John Calvert-Jones and including Bob Oatley, Nick Williams and Simon McKeon, they contributed $1 million.
So when Australian Sailing Team identified Price as a potential Olympic medallist last year it was well-equipped to back her, buying her a boat ($60,000) and sending her and her two-women crew on the world circuit, pitching her in a controversial battle against Nicky Souter, which, for Price's challenge alone, cost the sport $400,000. The head-to-head campaign was equipped with coaches, physiotherapists and a sports psychologist.
As the London Olympics draw to a close, Australia's chef de mission, Nick Green, has identified sailing's success and Sally Pearson's four-year plan following Beijing as two case studies that Australian sport would be investigating ''as a matter of urgency''. A largely humiliating 2012 Games mark the country's worst performance since Barcelona and fell well below expectations.
Green said a firm timeline had not been set but the Olympic movement, Australian Institute of Sport and the ASC ''are really keen to do a review and we can't delay that review. We need to start when we're still emotionally connected with what's happened here. What is sailing doing right? What did Sally Pearson do? What can we learn from those stories?''
Plympton, who now sits on the ASC and the Australian Olympic Committee likened sailing's achievement to the AFL's transformation from the Victorian Football League. ''I'm not claiming credit,'' he said. ''I just helped steer the ship. The support and the backing away of people's egos has just been fantastic.''
ertainly the soul-searching has begun quickly for swimming and athletics, whose national body has revealed it would require additional funding of between $500,000 to $1 million to retain talent.
Already there is a proposal on the table with the AIS to establish a centralised base - probably in Melbourne - for elite middle-distance runners, one group that performed overwhelmingly poorly in London. The Athletics Australia president, Rob Fildes, said: ''Some of our athletes have performed above expectations and a number of our athletes came here with high expectations and failed to perform. In terms of Olympic Games it's like the grand final and you only have one shot and it only comes around every four years.''
The former Olympic swimming coach Laurie Lawrence, whose role in the athletes village has largely been one of building team spirit and consoling devastated Australian performers, believes coaching, not funding, is the key and agreed that losing coaches to other countries had become an issue.
In a pointed reference, Lawrence said Gary Sutton, the Australian women's track cycling endurance coach, had knocked back an estimated $1 million to join his brother Shane at the helm of British cycling.
''He [Gary] said: 'No, shove it up your arse. I'm an Aussie from Moree, I'm green and gold through and through','' Lawrence said. ''Other people don't think like that. They've got families to support I suppose.
''We can't beat other countries with finance but we can beat them if all our coaches work in this country to share their knowledge. Denis Cotterell [the former coach of Grant Hackett and Daniel Kowalski] might coach foreign kids but he's also coaching Aussie kids. How many Australian coaches have come to Denis? Is Denis sharing his knowledge?
''How many coaches have asked Ric Charlesworth how you build great teams? How do we get Anna Meares's coach together with young coaches? That's the way we improve Australian sport and it's a very inexpensive way.'' Australia's respected athletics commentator and liaison officer Maurie Plant said coaching almost cost Pearson a gold medal, stressing that Dawn Harper's near victory and personal best time in the 100-metre hurdles was largely the result of her teaming up with the US running guru Bob Kersee.
Sailing's key mentor is the former Ukrainian coach Victor Kovalenko - ''the medalmaker'' - who is retained at an annual cost of $200,000 and whose 470 class crews have now won five gold medals since Sydney 2000.
The other key, according to Fildes, is identifying and retaining talent. ''We are not doing enough and I hate to talk about funding but without funding we can't keep our good kids in the sport. We run a talent identification program for kids from under 14 to under 20 and our program can afford to keep 80 when we could keep 800.
''So we lose them to football or netball because what happens is that if you are good at athletics you are good at most sports. From the Australian Sports Commission's point of view that's going to cost an extra $500,000 to $1 million. We might think that's reasonable but the government might think that's unreasonable.''
The former Wallabies captain John Eales, who has worked as an athletes liaison officer in the village for the past three Olympics, agreed the NRL and AFL - with increasingly strong commercial performances as well as expansion - had added to the retention problem. ''I think there's no doubt the Olympics is something that needs support from other sports,'' he said.
''It's definitely an issue. To get the best results you have to get the best athletes and get them on the starting line. It's complex but somehow we've always found a way. [London] shows you can't take anything for granted.
''Look at the Australian cricket team under Steve Waugh. It was easy to assume that we would always have that. Some of these people are once a generation and when you get them you have to make the most of them.''
The funding issue remains a highly sensitive one for the Australian Olympic Committee. Its president, John Coates, infuriated by reports he has pushed for more money for Olympic sports in the wake of poor results in London, insists he has questioned the quality of spending and not the quantity.
Coates told the Herald this week the once-dominant Australia had fallen behind in sports science and the Sydney Olympics had not succeeded in creating a legacy of compulsory school sport as London has vowed to achieve.
The Sports Minister, Kate Lundy, disagreed and singled out talent identification as a more significant problem.
David Grace, the athletics vice-president and a QC who was Australia's Olympic team advocate in Athens, said Coates's push for compulsory sport in schools was only part of the solution. ''Look at Kazakhstan. They've won six gold medals and it's a direct result of an enormous amount of funding poured into their sport. Whether that's seen as valuable for our national psyche is a matter for the government to decide but it's certainly true that during Olympic Games, Australians love to support their country and love to see them perform well.
''It's a question of how much money is worth it to bring that pride back?''
wimming - a sport largely run by coaches - has proved the whipping boy, with Coates singling out the sport's poor performance and Green adding this week that the timing of the competition had set a negative tone. Cycling, rowing and equestrian fell well below expectations.
Most senior Olympic observers fear the swimming review - by the former Olympian Susie O'Neill and one of Swimming Australia's own consultants, the coach Bill Sweetenham - will prove half-hearted. Heavier hitters are needed, they say, to turn a sport struggling to reach previous TV rating heights into a successful business.
Of Coates's pointed comments directed at his sport, Swimming Australia's chairman, David Urquhart, said: ''You tend to expect that sort of thing. With us there is always an expectation of success so we have to expect to cop it.
''Imagine how the swimmers themselves feel. James Magnussen didn't sleep for three nights after his race. These kids are the ones who are shattered. And I don't think they overplayed their disappointment.''
But Eales believes Magnussen - who missed gold by one-hundredth of a second - should not search his soul any more intensely than Pearson - who won by two-hundredths of a second. ''I really think you can learn just as much from great results,'' he said. ''I think we tend to be more introspective and self-examining when we lose and we tend not to analyse competition too much when we win.''
Fildes said the perception of Australia had been lowered with its London performances.
''A lot more countries are concentrating on sport as part of their brand - as part of their national standing and national success,'' Fildes said.
''Where there's funding and where there's focus, there's success. It's a global market and the coaching is a part of that. Coaches will change countries and we have to expect that but we have to keep up. We're perceived as a free country; open, successful and sports-loving. It's just part of Brand Australia.''