22 August 2016
“I don’t need a gold medal for self worth.”
“It’s not about winning, it’s about trying to win.”
“It’s a racing meet; times don’t mean much.”
With quotes like these, respectively from Cate Campbell, Bronte Campbell and Mitch Larkin, is it any wonder Australia suffered yet another disaster in the pool? It was so predictable that you could almost write the script. Big egos, a nonchalant attitude, and absurd excuses. The latter quote is one in perpetual use, as far back as double world champion Samantha Riley using it to explain her two failures at the Atlanta Olympics of 1996. The folly of it and all the other excuses is exposed when you understand that swimmers live and breath by times. They are obsessed by them, and personal bests. The opposite is actually true for them: results don’t matter, times do. All training is geared around achieving a PB, with the key focus being to deliver it in an Olympic final. We even saw Australian swimmers ecstatic at doing a PBs in an Olympic final. Unfortunately, they were the ones finishing fifth. For the favourites, it was implosion after implosion.
The surprise gold, the most emotional gold, the best gold of all. Australia’s Chloe Esposito crosses the line to win the modern pentathlon at Rio 2016. Image: Getty Images
With the three aforementioned swimmers, also add Emily Seebohm and Cameron McEvoy to the hit parade of inglorious failures. Seebohm – the double world champion at backstroke – was so abominable she finished seventh in the 100 and failed to even reach the 200 final. She’s probably more a case of a training error – not timing her taper correctly. As for McEvoy, apparently he got stage fright – something at the Australian trials he even warned the public was a possibility for any Olympic favourite. Talk about the proverbial chicken coming home to roost. If not for the upset win of Kyle Chalmers in the 100 freestyle, and Mack Horton’s narrow win the 400 freestyle, it could have been even worse.
There’s a bigger problem at play here: the mindset. Every single swimmer responded the same way at post race interviews. All tried to look for positives from their defeats, like just being in the final, or being at the Games themselves, that was success in itself. The Campbell sisters used the fact of two sisters being in an Olympic final as a means to extract something positive from their combined disaster. This is not a coincidence; they are schooled to react this way. Except, you only need watch their body language to realise it’s one big charade. It’s especially glaring if you watch those interviews with the sound muted. There’s no way anyone could align their words with the body language. Cate Campbell was clearly shell-shocked, while Larkin was constantly battling his instinct to express disappointment and his will to suppress it.
Who’s to blame? It’s the sports psychologists and so-called mentors. One of the losing swimmers attributed this to Leisel Jones: “If you’re not complete without a gold medal, you won’t be complete with one”. Note that Jones is Australia’s worst choker and biggest letdown in Australian Olympic history. Of the eight individual races she contested, she lost seven. That fact alone should disqualify her from any such mentoring role. At the very least, the swimmers should not be using her for inspiration. My vague recollection is the quote is actually from surfer Layne Beachley. That would be even worst, coming from someone in a tinpot sport of her time like women’s surfing. Regardless of the source, it’s clear the substance of that quote is embedded, because Cate Campbell paraphrased it.
Deep down, they do need a gold medal for self worth. Or, at least, for self vindication. They don’t spend 20 hours a week looking at a black line, winning world championships, breaking world records, leading the world by a whopping margin, and go to an Olympics and think “I don’t really need this”. It’s this conflict between their competitive fibre and the garbage from the sports psychologists that’s creating all the problems. They enter the pool deck and realise their dream is now in front of them. Countering that there’s voices in their head telling them it all doesn’t matter. It throws them off their concentration and race-plan, and reduces them to a physical and psychological wreck when they should be at their most confident and calm. In typical Australian fashion, their response to handling pressure is to bully the opposition. They always go out too hard rather than remain focused and be respectful of the task at hand. It’s no coincidence that the favourites all flopped and those swimming PBs came from the lower ranked swimmers. Swimmers from other nations were swimming PBs too. While you can pick out one or two of them that did fail, the difference is it was only one or two. With Australia it’s a pandemic within the team. It’s been enduring for past 20 years too.
Another problem is the timing of the selection trials. USA has theirs around 5 weeks before the Olympics whereas Australia’s is around 5 months. Ignore comments, particularly from former swimmers and commentators, that it works for us. That’s the typical Australian ego that likes to think it leads the world in everything. It doesn’t. Not when one Hungarian can win the same amount of gold medals as your entire team. After successive debacles, which includes the “successful Olympic meets” that still produced gold medals below benchmarks, it’s an unequivocal failure. It’s not even about gold medals. It’s about times, personal bests. Not enough swimmers produce them when it counts. They all can’t be suffering mental breakdowns or stage fright. It’s physical – as with Emily Seebohm. Remember, this is a 20 year embedded problem, not just the past two Olympics. Then consider the time lag means more chance of carrying an ill, injured or out of form swimmer to the Games. Conversely, late bloomers and those injured during trials miss selection. On a strategic level, Australia’s early trials also mean we lay a marker for the world to challenge, and beat.
The main concern with the American system of trials so close to a major event is the double taper. A taper is when athletes ease off after a period of hard training just prior to an event to re-energise the muscles ready to compete at peak performance. As a triathlete many moons ago and in many bodies ago, I can attest it’s a wonderful feeling to race after taper. You feel like superman and seem to have an endless supply of energy and power. Typically the taper period is about a week before an event. This will vary between sports, event and athlete, as will the training block needed just prior. For some, a few weeks won’t be enough, and if they can’t master the double taper, then it’s a decision to set for trials and hold form for the Olympics or set for the Olympics and rely on natural ability and the existing training base to qualify. Offsetting that is American swimmers don’t have to peak twice a year. Asking our swimmers to go through a hard training regime twice could be wearing down their bodies. Double-peak vs double-taper, you be the judge.
The USA’s continued domination on the world stage shows their system works. After an even world championships last year between the USA and Australia, it was a pummelling at the Olympics with the USA winning 16 gold to Australia’s 3. While you can argue they have a huge talent pool, and Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, you can’t deny that those athletes that qualify are consistently successful at the Games. There’s also that Hungarian. Katinka Hosszu won 3 gold medals by herself, and it would have been 4 if not for the USA’s Madeline Dirado swimming a massive PB to just win the 200 backstroke. Our stars, like even Ian Thorpe in the 200 freestyle at Sydney, will more often flop.
Even more devastating with the USA is those swimmers that haven’t tapered for trials will swim much faster at the Games once they have tapered. In contrast, ours consistently swim slower times than trials. 73% of them did, according to former head coach Brian Sutton. We went into 9 individual events with the fastest time of the year, which included 7 world championship holders and a world record holder, and left with one victory. That was Mack Horton. Madeline Groves can’t be faulted either, swimming a PB in the 200 fly when second by a whisker. Kyle Chalmers’ win was compensation – and relief – for Cameron McEvoy’s failure in the 100 freestyle. The third gold was the women’s 4×100 relay – who were favoured. So it’s 3 gold from 10 events at a 30% return. In that sense, Rio was far worse than the “disaster” of London where it was 1 from 2 at a 50% return.
There were also some strange strategic decisions made in the 4×200 freestyle relays. Emma McKeon, who rebounded with a bronze in a hot 200m freestyle field after folding in the 100m butterfly, was dropped for the women’s 4×200. Australia missed gold by just under two seconds, so would she have been two seconds faster than the fourth best swimmer? Same in men’s event, where McEvoy was dropped, seemingly to concentrate on the 100m. That backfired spectacularly with Australia just inches back in fourth from a silver and McEvoy imploding in his race anyway (thankfully Chalmers was there to clean up the mess). In hindsight, this strategy for them to focus on fewer events only increases the pressure. McEvoy surely would have enjoyed the relay swim, and grabbing a medal would have eased pressure and boosted confidence for his individual race. Let’s look to the USA again, or even Hosszu from Hungary. They have no problems with heavy programs and will even swim twice in the one evening.
The reason the the team received so much criticism was because Olympic sports receive so much of taxpayer money. This is no criticism of the funding. After all, the $332 million over four years is peanuts compared to the $1000 million we pay every single month on our national debt, and Australian success at the Games boosts national morale. The last thing we want is the return to the old days of barely any gold. It’s merely about return on investment, and the public has a right to expect a minimum standard of performing to your optimum. Of that $332m most went to swimming ($37.9m), cycling (34.1), rowing (32.4), sailing (29), hockey (28.6) and athletics (27.9). Also implemented was the “Winning Edge” program, where funds are directed to those at the top – those sports likely to win gold. Reputedly it’s a copy of Great Britain’s successful program that saw them win 29 gold in London and another 27 in Rio. Australia is at 8 after four years of a 10 year plan, so the “copy” aspect obviously still needs more work, even if Britain’s budget is much higher at 274.5 GBP (about 475m AUD). It’s worthwhile continuing with it until at least Tokyo 2020 before any review.
REVIEW OF SPORTS
Here’s a breakdown of the success of all sports at Rio with the amount in millions invested.
$37.9m – 3 Gold, 4 Silver, 3 Bronze
Running through the events…
Men 100f – Cameron McEvoy: According to the head coach, he got “stage fright”, and finished 7th at 1 second slower than his best. Even within half a second of his best would have seen him win gold. When Kyle Chalmers came through and won, you could really sense the excitement mixed with relief on the faces of the coaches. Like most of us, they would have been watching McEvoy, exasperated at yet another impending Australian failure, only to catch a glimpse of Chalmers in the last metres surging through for the win.
Men 400f – Mack Horton: Came into Rio with the world’s fastest time of the year, and won gold, just pipping Sun Yang. Horton caused the biggest attention outside the pool with his criticism of Sun’s drugs record. The Chinese claimed the drugs were for angina and were later removed from the banned list. Interestingly, the Australian Olympic Committee encouraged Horton to speak up and hog attention in contradiction with their “One Team” philosophy. Ask Nick Kyrgios about that philosophy and he’ll say it’s only when it suits them, is politically correct or is in their own sanctimonious favour. Anything remotely controversial coming from the mouths of athletes and the speech police are out in force.
Men 100b – Mitch Larkin: Went out too hard, being just in front of world record pace, faded to fourth at .3 off his PB. Hitting is PB would have been good enough for silver only.
Men 200b – Mitch Larkin: Similar to his 100, except improved to silver, and cost himself gold by swimming .8 below his PB. He was thankful merely for the medal at this stage, expressing an “at least it’s something” attitude.
Women 50f – Cate Campbell: This was even more disappointing than the 100. With the pressure off after that flop, and for an event that requires no pacing, expectations were for her to rebound. It would have been an easy gold if she swam near her PB. She finished fifth. Her sister, Bronte, and world champion, was expected to get silver. She finished 7th. Bronte apparently had should problems leading into the Games so wasn’t fully ready.
Women 100f – Cate Campbell: The most famous meltdown of the Australian swim team and “possibly the greatest choke in Olympic history”, in her words. Fastest time by miles over anyone in the field and broke the world record only a few weeks earlier. That raised suspicions at the time she might have peaked too early. Anything near her best time and it’s a certain gold. Finished sixth. Her sister, Bronte, like with the 50, was the world champion and expected to get silver. She finished 4th.
Women 100b – Emily Seebohm: Hopelessly out of form. Her best time would have seen gold. Finished 7th.
Women 200b – Emily Seebohm: This time couldn’t even make the final. Best time would have won gold.
Women 200bf – Madeline Groves: One of the big chances based on producing the fastest time of the year. She did everything possible: swam fast, beat the Americans, beat the Chinese, beat just about anybody you’d suspect as tough competition. She lost to Spain’s Mireia Belmonte by just 3/100th of a second. She kept producing PBs so she can’t be faulted.
Women 4x100f relay: Justified their favourtism for an easy win, and in world record time. This result – on night 1 of the Games – proves the Campbell sisters arrived in form. It’s inexplicable both failed in the individual events.
Women 4x100m relay: With their best times, they would have won. Ended up second by just under 2 seconds.
In summary, 9 gold would have been the optimum return. You also counter that with the hope some swimmers improve from the trials, and you got that with the likes of Madeline Groves, who missed gold by a whisker.
$2.6m – 1 Bronze
Took a well deserved bronze in the men’s team event, and nearly caused a boilover when pushing the eventual Korean gold medalist to sudden death in the men’s singles.
$21.1m – 0 Medals
Women choked. Won all 5 pool games, led Serbia through the quarter final, lost by two points. Too many turnovers cost them and couldn’t cope with Serbia’s swarming defence. Warning signs were there in the pool games, where they had to make last quarter surges in their final two games to defeat Japan and Belarus. The men suffered a similar fate, also losing to Serbia, unable to cope with the pressure defence, and shooting so poor that their half time tally was only 14 points. This after beating Serbia in the pool games by 15 points, and the only loss being a close one to the USA. Then it was heartbreak in the bronze medal game, losing by 1 point to Spain. It’s the fourth loss in a bronze medal game, and one that will be rued. Not so much the bronze medal game, more the wasted opportunity in the semi final. They deserved a silver and to play for gold. While the funding seems high for the opportunity for only two medals, basketball is such a popular game that it’s worthwhile the investment. Also, had the men got that medal it would be have been one of our best and most celebrated of the Games.
$18m – 2 Bronze
Jessica Fox made an outstanding run in the K1 finals to secure bronze. It would have been silver if not for a faint touch on one of the gates. The Spanish winner was in a class of her own. Next Olympics C1 will be introduced for the women at the expense of the men’s K2. That will give her – and no doubt her precocious younger sister – an extra option for gold. The flat water was disappointing. The men’s K2-1000 bronze was the only medal.
$32.5m – 1 Silver, 1 Bronze
A shocker. Even though Australia had no outright gold medal favourites, they had a plethora of top contenders and the result of zero gold is an abomination. There are some excuses, like the women’s pursuit team crashing in practice, and the ridiculously dangerous road race course saw Richie Porte crash out. Australia’s best hope, Simon Gerrens, was already out of the Games after a crash in the Tour de France. Rohan Dennis needed a bike change in the road time trial after breaking his handlebars, which cost him silver. The men’s pursuit team broke the old world record in the gold medal race only for Britain to break it by a greater margin – and win by just .8 seconds. That was superb effort. The women’s and men’s omnium events suffered from bad luck and a crash, respectively.
No excuses for our sprinters, with Anna Meares’ lone bronze the best achievement from six events. Meares entered the Games with dubiously low expectations for someone of her calibre: do better in the keirin than in 2012 (not hard since it was disaster) and to win a medal (took bronze in the keirin). Rio seemed more like farewell tour than a real, intense effort for gold. A nonchalant 10th in her pet event, the individual sprint, said it all. Matthew Glaetzer in the men’s events showed none of the speed seen in recent international events.
BMX was a wipeout with Caroline Buchanan just missing the final after a careless crash in her the final heat of her semi final. She’d not have beaten the Colombian winner, Mariana Pajon, in the final anyway. Pajon backed up after her 2012 gold medal to really demonstrate the meaning of pressure. In the men’s, both Australia’s best hopes reached the final undefeated from the semi finals, only to blow it in the final to finish 6th and 8th. Both had poor starts than usual. Quite possibly they wasted too much energy in the semi finals, allowing for fresher legs to steamroll them. The only equivocation is that BMX has a sudden death final for gold, which opens the possibility for misfortune. Earlier rounds are run over three heats, and this would be a much fairer approach to decide the medals.
Swimming’s big failures has meant cycling – particularly on the track – has escaped attention. No gold medals is outrageous for a sport that receives so much money. Authorities would have expected at least 3 gold medals, and hoped for more. With the exception of Athens 2004, cycling are perennial under-achievers. It was only one gold in London and none in Beijing. Even considering the dominance of the British track riders over those Olympics (7 from 10 in London, 6 from 10 in Rios), one gold in three Games is outrageous. Like with swimming, it’s no point popping up at world championships in other years and dominating. It’s about the Olympic Games and the sport needs an overhaul.
$8.6m – 1 Bronze
Popping up with gold two times since 2004 might have boosted funding. A minor medal or two is usually our standard, and that was the result here.
$10.5m – 1 Bronze
Led the eventing after dressage and cross country in both individual and team, only to lose it in the showjumping. While the individual had the precarious requirement to jump clean, the team of 3 riders could afford to drop 4 rails. That buffer was gone with the first rider. The second rider jumped clean only for the third rider – the individual leader – to drop two. That’s equestrian, and the team was really only in such a strong position after a superlative cross country. Rio will be a good base to build for Tokyo 2020 and get four more years experience into the horses.
$8.1m – 0 Medals
Women lost their quarter final to Brazil in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw. Probably a tactical error that Michelle Heyman shot sixth, instead of on the potentially winning fifth kick. Midfielder Katrina Gorry missed that with a poor attempt, whereas Heyman, a striker, was clinical with hers. It’s an opportunity lost as the USA had already been eliminated by Sweden, leaving the gold medal race wide open. Sweden, who would have been Australia’s semi final opponent, lost 2-1 to Germany in the final.
The men had long choked when they couldn’t even qualify. They couldn’t even score a goal in their final qualifying tournament against the UAE and Jordan. Only against lowly Vietnam could they win a match. After a similar disaster four years prior in which they went entirely goalless through the final qualifying round, the question really must be asked whether it’s worth the effort to try qualify. Australia couldn’t get many of their players from overseas clubs again, and football itself goes almost unnoticed at the Games as the public and media focus on all the other sports. Most matches are played outside the host city, so it’s a very detached Olympic experience for the players too.
Football’s history at the Olympics is also a dubious one. In the amateur days, it was dominated by European communist countries. Once professional athletes were allowed in 1984, FIFA didn’t want the Olympics to rival the World Cup so European and South American nations could only field players that never played in a World Cup. That lasted until 1992 when it became an Under-23 competition. From 1996, three over-age players could be added. This compromise for legitimacy has perpetually undermined the value of the men’s competition. There’s no restrictions for the women.
If football didn’t earn so much money for Olympic organisers, it would be dumped. In fact, it should be dumped. Brazil finally winning their first gold medal in the sport is perfect timing for it to go. The money Australia spends is no issue, given it is the world’s most popular and biggest sport, and it offers the most prestigious competition in sport: the World Cup.
$4m – 0 Medals
Australia led the men for two rounds before, you guessed it, choked. In fairness, Marcus Fraser had the better of the conditions on the first day to build a lead. He was never in it after that. More important is the boycott by many of Australia’s and the world’s best golfers that undermined the credibility of the event. The women, at least, took it more seriously, and now Rio has its very first golf course. Whoopee!
$26.7m – 0 Medals
The men, as hot favourites for gold, capitulated 4-0 to the Netherlands in the quarter finals. It’s yet another massive choke from a team of perpetual chokers. Their record is now one gold in 40 years and 11 Olympics despite consistent, and sometimes dominant, favouritism. The women were battered 4-2 by New Zealand in their quarter final to add to their woeful record in recent Games. For such a strong sport that nearly always produces a medal, Rio was a disaster. If funding is all about medals, you also must question the value of funding a sport with only two chances to win medals and only a niche appeal in Australia.
$0.190m – 1 Gold
Our best, and most surprising gold, of the Rio Games, if not ever for Australia. Seeing Chloe Esposito trying to control the tears as she’s running the final lap of the cross country combined and knowing she’ll win, it brings tears to your own eyes. I can’t remember a more emotional one. Up there are Debbie Flintoff-King in 1988, Cathy Freeman in 2000, Alisa Camplin in 2002, and Anna Meares and Sally Pearson in 2012 – and I’d say Esposito surpasses them. It was a remarkable win, needing to overcome a 45 second deficit in that final event to win gold. Missing only one of her 20 shots at the shooting range, she won easily and set an Olympic record. The $190k of funding received by Modern Pentathlon – the smallest amount by far for any Olympic sport – would only cover basic expenses. With Chloe’s younger brother, Max, finishing 7th in the men’s event and their father as coach, it’s primarily a family affair keeping the sport going. It’s a an old school gold medal in that sense, built on dedication, desire and sheer determination. A total contrast to the prima donna swimmers that are pampered to excess and full of excuses. Esposito surely would have carried the flag in the closing ceremony if chef de mission, Kitty Chiller, was not a former pentathlete herself.
$31.1m – 1 Gold, 2 Silver
Kim Brennan came through in the women’s single sculls and was the second most deserved to the carry the flag at the closing ceremony (see previous paragraph). The men’s quad sculls and fours finished with silver. Both hoped for Gold. The quad sculls the most disappointing, dominating the event internationally for the past two years, only to lose when it counts. It wasn’t pleasant either, with Germany, out in lane 1 after qualifying through a repechage, rushed to an early and insurmountable lead, seemingly without the Australians realising. In the words of one of Australia’s crew, Germany “pulled a swifty”. Australia’s normally strong finish wasn’t good enough, and apparently the strong headwind didn’t help. The fours were beaten – again – by Britain. No great surprise there as the British have dominated this event for 5 Olympics now. Considering all the funding to the sport, rowing finished at least one gold too short.
$6.6m – 1 Gold
The women won as expected. The men were outclassed as expected. This is one of the better new sports to the Games, as it’s exciting, is open to both genders, will quickly build depth, and is cheap to run. You only need a rectangular field, and all Olympic cities would have at least one of those. You wonder whether athletes from other sports might feel envious at this instant gold for Australia. They dream all their lives, and across generations, about the Olympics and here is a bunch of women scrambled together over a few years from other sports around the country and suddenly they are gold medalists at the Olympics.
$29.3m – 1 Gold, 3 Silver
Four medals from seven events entered, so mirrored London in total medals (3 Gold, 1 Silver) and can’t be faulted. If you were picky, you might want an extra gold. In truth, it could have been four silvers if not for a masterful display by Tom Burton in the men’s Laser to finish by the required 5 places over Croatia in the Medal Race. He said his tactics to pin the Croatia before the line and force a penalty had less than a 10% chance of succeeding. Or it could have been two gold if the Nacra 17 crew finished five places, not 4, over Argentina in their Medal Race.
$8.9m – 1 Gold
Didn’t hear a peep from it other than a surprise gold from Catherine Skinner in the women’s single trap early on (she needed a shoot-off just to reach the semi finals). Expect that to continue for future Games.
Track and Field
$29.2m – 1 Silver, 1 Bronze
Dani Samuels could have got a medal had she thrown her best. She finished fourth. Women’s middle distant events saw many Australian finalists, including 3 in the 5000m,with a consistent burst of personal best times. Not that any of them transferred into medals. The spectacular derriere of Genevieve LaCaze proved to be the biggest highlight, and I’m not even an “assman”. There was a bronze in the men’s 20km walk, and Jared Tallent took the silver in the 50km walk to match his gold from London. Track and Field is one sport that shows the value of participation means almost as much as winning medals. It’s the glamour competition of the Games, and arguably a gold there means much more than3 golds in sailing.
$0.684m – 0 Medals
As usual, a waste of time. Samantha Stosur looked good in early rounds then folded. The men and doubles teams never on the radar. The only bright side was Monica Puig to win Puerto Rico’s first ever gold medal. Her tears made you think twice about tennis’ inclusion of the game. Then you think of all the other players that don’t care that much, that Grand Slams are still far more important, probably even for Puig, and tennis is a waste of time at the Olympics.
$8.5m – 0 Medals
Top 10 finishes in both events was about expected.
$14.3m – 0 Medals
The women choked, losing a penalty shootout after giving up a 2 goal lead to Hungary in the last quarter. The men, who were never a realistic chance for a medal, were knocked out in the group stage. Much like hockey, so much money for a sport with only two events available. In fact, it’s worst: the men only ever make up the numbers.
Badminton (2.2), Boxing (3.8), Gymnastics ($9.6m), Judo (3), Table Tennis (1), Taekwondo (1), Volleyball inc Beach (8.8), Wrestling (0.06) and Weightlifting (1.6) are the other sports to receive funding. All figures quoted from Australian Sports Commission, credit: ABC media.
The Olympics are unique in that often there’s misery one day and elation the next. I watch more for general performances, and found great moments even among our depressing ones. The USA’s Simone Manuel (who said black girls can’t swim?) and Canada’s 16yo Penny Olensiak tying for first in Cate Campbell’s race (100m freestyle), and the tears from Denmark’s Pernille Blume winning the Campbell’s other failure, the 50m freestyle. It was Denmark’s first swimming gold since 1948. She would then go help the team win bronze in the 4×100 medley relay and there’d be even more tears.
The triple tie for second with Michael Phelps in the 100m fly – the first time there’s ever been a triple tie for a position in swimming. Even more amazing was Singapore’s Joseph Schooling winning the race, and beating his idol. It was Singapore’s first ever gold and meant a $1m reward for Schooling. USA’s Ryan Held, as part of the USA’s men 4×100 freestyle relay, was also in tears by sharing a podium with his hero, Phelps.
A wonderful bronze medal was New Zealand’s 19yo pole vaulter Eliza McCartney. Seeing her explode into tears after Australia’s Alana Boyd missed her final jump was amazing (sorry, Alana!). Usain Bolt was wonderful, if not overly self indulgent. It must be compensation for running for such a short time that the sprinters feel the need to spend so much time celebrating and prancing about after the race. He was trumped anyway by South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk breaking the 400m world record, and possibly Britain’s Mo Farah doing the double double of 5000m and 10,000m in successive Games. Finally, who could forget Fiji in the Rugby Sevens, or Brazil in football. It was one of the first times in ages I was cheering for Brazil.
Not quite the highlight was Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte in the 100 breaststroke. She was a big highlight in London when winning as a 15yo, and I’ve been watching her career since and hoping she could repeat in Rio. She was 4 seconds off her best (as world record holder) and finished seventh. Notably she was bulkier than 4 years prior and probably lost that suppleness in her stroke and sits a bit lower in the water.
Needless to say, there’s been much criticism against the criticism of Australia’s poor result. Comments like 8 gold medals are a great achievement, expectations were too high, that by population we did well, and the athletes did their best, all miss the point. First, they (read: swimmers) did not do their best. They readily admit it themselves, failing to produce anywhere near their best performances. Second, medal predictions were based on benchmarks – an athlete’s best recent time. Produce that, you win, it’s that simple. Clearly something went horribly wrong when so many failed. Third, population is irrelevant, it’s about wealth and funding, Australia funds generously. Fourth, that funding is supplied by the taxpayers. Three gold from swimming equates to a cost of $13 million each. That’s unacceptable by anyone’s measure. Cycling was even worse with 0 gold.
For the record, we are proud of our champions. We’re proud of Esposito, Brennan, Skinner and Chalmers – all of whom did step up. That doesn’t mean we can excuse the failures. The team is funded with the aspiration of a top 5 place, which is about 15 gold and 45 medals. We don’t send them for participation medals and to be gracious losers. With the taxpayer as their sugar daddy, there must be a level of accountability. Otherwise, withdraw the funding, and let’s return to the days of little Aussie battlers scratching out a handful of gold.
My only complaint with Channel 7’s coverage was switching sports all over the 3 channels. It made it impossible to record anything – annoying when this was the first Games I didn’t take holidays to watch. Some structure would be nice. While the app had everything live (if you wanted to pay $20 for it), who can watch things at 4am every night. Also, you couldn’t record or watch on delay, or stream it to your TV. Oh, and Bruce McAvaney, Chile recently won the Copa America, not the Copacabana! He messed that up during the opening ceremony. He also fluffed the description of Usain Bolt’s 200m win calling it the double triple. No, it was the triple double.
I was also peeved that some nights two of the channels were consumed with tennis and golf. These became more an intrusion to the Games than an inclusion. Yes, I’d rather see sailing, shooting and judo during the Games period than sports I can see any day of the week outside the Olympics. In fact, any sport where the Olympic Games is not their most prestigious competition, it should be out. As mentioned earlier, football is one of them. For sheer stupidity, out should go synchronized swimming, and possibly rhythmic gymnastics. These are purely artist events, not sport. Besides, both are sexist, because there’s no events for men.
Despite all the troubles with organisation, the lack of local interest, dirty water, muggings and stray bullets, the Rio Olympics ultimately proved a success. That’s because of the one great constant of the Olympics itself – the fabulous sporting competition. As a host city, it won’t be remembered well, and that will have ramifications for the choice of future host cities, which will need to be large, safe and with most infrastructure in place. Tokyo 2020 will be peerless in that sense.
At 8 gold medals, Australia ended up with the bare minimum as marked in the preview. Even then there was some luck to reach that. Catherine Skinner in the shooting, Tom Burton in sailing, Chloe Esposito in Modern Pentathlon, and thankfully Kyle Chambers meant Cameron McEvoy’s flop was irrelevant (other than costing a minor medal). It was good timing to add Rugby Sevens to the Olympic program too. Of course, you will always end up with surprise gold medals, and that is the beauty of the Olympics. It’s the reason I rate Barcelona 1992 so highly because Australia had struggled for so long and suddenly we had 3 golds within a few days with Kathy Watt in cycling and two in equestrian, and eventually finishing with 7. Overall medals this time was 29, which is lower than 35 of the London debacle, and the lowest since the 27 in Barcelona.
Still a problem is our poor conversion of medals to gold medals. The best performed countries always have more gold than silver and bronze. Australia went 8, 11 and 10 compared to, say, Hungary at 8, 3 and 4, or Britain’s 27, 23, and 17. It’s more evidence of our choke culture, which we can see all the way back to Sydney. They were our Silver Games, not Golden Games, when the 16 gold medals had 25 silver medals as companions. Only Athens has shown some balance since. The “Winning Edge” program needs to include that so that even a poor Games by total medals will still look good when by gold medals. Actually, this Games would have proved exactly as so if not for the massive choke.
In comparison to similar sized and wealthy nations, Netherlands and Hungary also won 8 gold, with the Dutch unlucky to finish on a sour note when Dafne Schippers had to settle for silver in the 200m on the track and the women’s hockey lost in a penalty shootout to Britain when attempting to win their third gold in a row. Britain, in fact, were phenomenal and clearly the best performed nation in my estimation. Lower down Croatia was superb with 5, and that’s despite losing to arch rivals Serbia in water polo. Brazil will be rapt with their 7, picking up gold in men’s volleyball and beach volleyball to add to football in team sports. Other gold medals were judo, sailing, pole vaulting and boxing. Commonwealth cousins New Zealand and Canada won 4 gold each.
Realistically, the AOC’s aim to finish top 5 I feel diminishes the value of each gold medal. In fact, we don’t even care about silver and bronze anymore, unless it’s a spectacular result, like almost the men’s basketball. Countries like Britain (if their funding ever dries up), France (10 gold), Italy (8), Japan (12) and Korea (8) are roughly our direct competition on the table, and we should aim to settle at 30 medals per Games, with an average of 10 gold medals and a top 10 spot. The exception are years when we know we’re in for a strong Games, because those ones (Rio) should make up for the bad ones (London). Now with this double disappointment, is it look out Tokyo 2020?
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