September 7 - Canada's preparations for London 2012 have been rocked by the shock resignation of Alex Baumann as the chief executive of Own the Podium, which oversess the country's high performance programme.

The 47-year-old double Olympic swimming champion is stepping down from October after taking the decision to relocate to New Zealand, where he has agreed to become the chief executive of High Performance Sport New Zealand

It follows a successful operation earlier this year for cancer.

It was Baumann's second fight against cancer having already undergone surgery for testicular cancer in 1999.

"There is a saying that, when a person gets cancer, the whole family gets cancer," said Baumann, who won the 200 and 400 metres medley at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

"I watched over the months the impact this diagnosis had on my wife and children.

"The waiting, the worrying and the uncertainty probably put more stress on them than me.

"It is times such as these we realise the importance of family and time together."

Baumann claims that moving to New Zealand will put him closer to his extended family.

"What most people don't know is that I have no relatives in Canada at all and [wife] Tracy's family are all in Australia," said Baumann.

"It is in these moments of life's greatest challenges that we turn to our families for the love and support only they can provide.

"We missed having that support and the tyranny of distance began to take its toll, which sparked our thinking it was time to consider leaving Canada earlier than planned."

High Performance Sport New Zealand is a subsidary of Sport and Recreation New Zealand (SPARC).

"This is definitely an exciting opportunity for me," said Baumann.

"But there is a reason I have a maple leaf tattooed over my heart - I love Canada.

"I hope people can appreciate this was not an easy decision.

"But I have to do what I believe to be best for my family."

Baumann was born in Prague but raised in Canada after his family moved there in 1969 following the the Prague Spring.

He then moved to Australia in 1991 following the end of his career before returning to Canada in 2006 after Own the Podium was founded with the specific aim of helping them being successful at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The initiative was a stunning success as Canada finished top of the medals table in Vancouver, with the gold medallists including Jon Montgomery (pictured) in the bob skeleton.

Baumann succeeded Roger Jackson as chief executive in April 2010 and was helping Canada's summer athletes work towards the target of a top-12 place at London 2012.

"Our goal has always been to create a system that rivals any sport system in the world," Baumann said.

"We have made great strides in a short time to establish Canada as a world leader in high-performance sport.

"I am proud of our ability to build a talented and dedicated team of colleagues in both our Ottawa and Calgary offices, all of whom played a critical role in streamlining our operations for Canada's summer and winter sports with the same objective in mind - to own the podium."

John Furlong, the chief executive of Vancouver 2010, who is now the chairman of Own the Podium, paid tribute to the work that Baumann had done.

"Alex is an extraordinary leader who has done an exceptional job of ensuring Canada's high-performance sport culture remains focused on excellence," he said.

"Alex has played a pivotal role in Own the Podium's evolution and positioning Canadian athletes for a record performance in London next summer.

"His uncompromising attitude to succeed at the highest level is a huge reason why support for Canada's athletes, coaches and national sport organisations has never been stronger.

"The sport community owes him a big thank you."


By Duncan Mackay