Rio 2016 – Preview & Predictions

05 August 2016

Will Rio 2016 finally be the Olympics Australia doesn’t choke? Despite the hype generated from the swag of gold medals won since Sydney 2000, we have actually under-achieved as a nation, particularly in the pool. While we were highly critical of the 1 gold won at London 2012, in terms of predicted success, it was actually no worse than Beijing 2008.

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Predictions in 2008 – notably from the American Sports Illustrated magazine – had Australia winning 12 gold medals in the pool as a minimum. If everything went right, it was 15, or even 17. While the rest of the world kept swimming personal bests in race after race, Australia kept producing flop after flop. Even worse was the jingoistic false pride from the team and the media at the minor medals won. Sorry, we, as a nation, are not proud of silver when we, as taxpayers, pump millions into a sports program and we, as sports fans, expect our athletes to perform to their abilities.

You can go back as far as Barcelona in 1992 for failures in the pool, often with the team returning half the gold medals they should have won. For all the fuss of Kieren Perkins winning the 1500m in Barcelona, he should have won the 400m too. Atlanta was similarly bereft of gold medals until two in the final days. Athens 2004, and especially Sydney 2000, are more illustrious failures. Whereas in 2012, Australia went in with only one or two gold medal favourites, and finished with one. Ironically, that was the surprise from the women’s’ 4×100 freestyle relay on the first night.

Let’s hope Rio is the salvation. Noted data analysts Gracenote are predicting, right now, 8 gold medals from the pool and 16 gold medals across all sports. A few months ago it was 18 gold medals. Our previous best was 17 in Athens. Sports Illustrated is suggesting 11 in the pool – an exaggeration this time – and 20 overall. The good news is those in the pool should be unbeatable if they produce near their personal bests. While one or two might be unlucky to be ambushed by a freak rival performance on the day, the key point is to produce the times. Too often the excuse of “it’s a racing meet” is offered for poor times, when really it should be no excuse. Swim your own race.

AUSTRALIA’S GOLD MEDAL CHANCES

Swimming

Minimum: 6
Optimum: 8
Maximum: 11

Women’s 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke, 200 backstroke and 4*100 freestyle, and men’s 100 freestyle, 100 and 200 backstroke are the key events.

Curiously, Cate Campbell broke the 100m world record only a few weeks ago. Let’s hope she hasn’t peaked. She’s miles in front of the world in that event, and favoured in the 50m, and so are the women in the 4x100f relay. Emily Seebohm and Mitch Larkin are world champions in the two backstroke events and, at the minimum, should win one of them. Cameron McEvoy in the men’s 100f is also the world champion and clearly the fastest in the world. There could be one or two surprises, like Mack Horton in the men’s 400f.

Basketball

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 1

Can the women finally win gold? Only if someone else beats the USA along the way. That’s how Australia won its world championship several years ago, and then beat Russia for gold. The men can only hope for a minor medal.

Canoe/Kayak

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 1
Maximum: 2

Jessica Fox, silver in 2012, is a double world champion. Her slalom event can be tricky – one mistake and you are gone – so difficult to bank a certain gold here. On the flat water, the men occasionally snag a gold, and won gold in the k4*1000 in London.

Cycling

Minimum: 1
Optimum: 3
Maximum: 7

Plenty of chances with not too many guarantees. Anna Meares (sprint champion in 2012) is in three events and hopefully she wins one (the keirin the most likely). Annette Edmondson is a solid chance in the omnium, as are both women and men (especially women) in the team pursuit. BMX has multiple recent world champion Caroline Buchanan, while Sam Willoughby was one in the past. Finally, either race road could spring a surprise.

Diving

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 1

Occasionally diving delivers a gold. Syncro events or women’s platform the best chances.

Equestrian

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 1

Cross country and 3-day eventing are Australia’s best chances. It’s been quiet for a few Olympics so maybe it’s time for another gold.

Football

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 1

The men didn’t qualify; the women are on the rise. A gold would be a wonderful surprise, and an extra challenge after already losing their first match in Rio. A 2-0 loss to Canada means they must beat Germany in the next match. A draw means they’ll need to rely on other results, while a loss means they are out of the Olympics on the first official day of competition. Zimbabwe is the fourth team in the group and are expected to be easy beats for all teams after already losing 6-1 to Germany.

Golf

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 1

Who cares? Ridiculous event to include. Men a chance.

Hockey

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 1
Maximum: 1

The men are a strong chance – as long as they don’t choke. Starting with the infamous failure in Montreal in 1976, for 40 years they’ve entered the Olympics as one of the favourites, if not the favourite, and returned 1 gold medal. The last two Olympics they fell apart in the semi finals after leading at half time. They could be the biggest chokers of any Australian team or individual in any sport, ever!

Rowing

Minimum: 1
Optimum: 2
Maximum: 3

Five minor medals four years ago means it’s time for gold. Kim Brennan (nee Crow) dominates women’s sculls, and the men are good chance in the fours and quad sculls.

Rugby Sevens

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 1
Maximum: 1

Women are world champions; men could surprise.

Sailing

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 1
Maximum: 3

The sport that saved our skin in London. The men’s 470s (Mathew Belcher & Will Ryan) and 49er (Nathan Outteridge & Iain Jensen) are reigning Olympic champions. Tom Burton in the Laser an outside chance. Sailing can be fickle so best not to bank too heavily here.

Shooting

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 1

Another sport that occasionally produces a gold, usually in the trap events.

Tennis

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 1

Another sport that should not be the Games. Only hopes are doubles and mixed doubles events.

Track and Field

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 2

Fabrice Lapierre in the long jump and Jared Tallent in the walking events the main chances. Tallent belatedly won gold from the 50km at London 2012 after the Russian winner was eventually disqualified for drug use.

Triathlon

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 1

Either men or women a chance.

Water Polo

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 1

Women a chance.

Total

Minimum: 8
Optimum: 17
Maximum: 39

Remember, that maximum is everything in every event for every chance going right. This obviously will not happen. In fact, I’ve already allowed for this eventuality by not assigning two gold medals to team events like rugby and hockey. It would be highly unlikely both would win. If you cut the difference between optimum and maximum (22) in half (11), then the more realistic maximum is 28.

Personally I want the swimming team to excel. Ten gold in the pool and winning the medal tally would be perfect. Especially that the swimmers that are favoured to win – Campbell, Seebohm, McEvoy and Larkin – are decent, humble people. Speaking of decent and humble, Jessica Fox in the kayak slalom would be the most exciting gold of all to win. She’s won of the few people I follow on twitter. Anna Meares deserves another gold on the velodrome, while Annette Edmondson deserves her first.

OTHER NATIONS

Of course, the Olympics is not all about other Australia. Personally, I love to look elsewhere and absorb as much as I can. Other than the obvious of Usain Bolt to win the 100m and 200m for a third time, American swimmer Katie Ledecky will be the one to watch. She won 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m at the world titles last year, and has demolished world records, particularly in the distance events. There’s no 1500m for women in the Olympics, and the 200m will be much tougher in an Olympic year. The 400m and 800m are still there, as other relay swims. She could finished with 4 gold medals.

The athlete for which I’ll have the most interest is Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte in the 100m breaststroke. She won in London as a 15 year old and it would be great to see her double up. The biggest threat would be Russia’s Yuliya Efimova, who beat her at the world championships last year. Incredibly, Efimova’s status is not 100% certain, with the IOC still to confirm her eligibility to compete in Rio. Efimova is contesting the grounds for the original doping offence (that she already served) so claims she should not be part of the IOC’s directive that Russia bans all athletes ever sanctioned for drug use.

RUSSIA

The right decision has been made that individuals never caught doping are allowed to compete. To ban an entire nation is ridiculous, and speaks more of the sanctimonious and reactionary approach by WADA, and the public as a whole. WADA is more concerned with its own power than individual athletes, sets ridiculous levels for athletes to prove innocence, and uses the Court of Arbitration for Sport to enforce its decisions. Realise that the CAS adjudicates on the jurisdiction of the appealing body (WADA, in this case). It’s not a true court where guilt must be proved, meaning that case involving WADA typically goes in favour of WADA.

You saw it first hand with the Essendon scandal in the AFL. Impossible to convict under the AFL’s jurisdiction of a stronger burden of proof, WADA steps in (because the AFL is a signatory) with its jurisdiction of almost non-existent proof, and the decision is reversed. There’s also Maria Sharapova’s case of ostensibly being allowed to take an illegal drug so WADA could eventually grandstand once she tests positive.

Even despite the narcissistic influence of WADA, it simply would have been wrong to ban individuals that never doped, and especially never had their samples fiddled by the Russian government. Think if it was Australia’s track and field athletes caught in systematic doping, and it was decided all the swimmers and cyclists should be banned with them. We’d be outraged, and rightfully so!

MORE INFORMATION & LINKS

Sports Illustrated says Australia to win 20 gold medals among 50 overall. Gold medals:

Cycling – Sprint – Matthew Glaetzer
Cycling – Keirin – Anna Meares
Cycling – BMX – Caroline Buchanan
Cycling – Men Team Pursuit
Hockey – Men
Rowing – Men Quad sculls
Rowing – Women Single sculls – Kim Brennan
Rowing – Women Quad sculls
Rugby – Women
Swimming – Men 100f – Cameron McEvoy
Swimming – Men 400f – Mack Horton
Swimming – Men 100b – Mitch Larkin
Swimming – Men 200b – Mitch Larkin
Swimming – Women 50f – Cate Campbell
Swimming – Women 100f – Cate Campbell
Swimming – Women 100b – Emily Seebohm
Swimming – Women 200b – Emily Seebohm
Swimming – Women 200bf – Madeline Groves
Swimming – Women 4x100f relay
Swimming – Women 4x100m relay

Interestingly they rank Jessica Fox in kayak slalom only for bronze and have totally ignored sailing and the women’s pursuit team in cycling. The women’s 200bf is the surprise inclusion for swimming. The women’s 4x100m relay seems optimistic to beat the USA for gold. Like I said earlier, there could be surprises, and SI’s 11 gold medals match my maximum.

http://www.si.com/olympics/2016/08/01/rio-2016-olympics-medal-picks-predictions-projected-medal-count

 

Gracenote are giving us Fox, a sailing gold and, surprisingly, a shooting gold, while dumping Seebohm in the 200br and three cycling gold medals.

Canoe Slalom – K1 J. Fox
Canoe Sprint M K4 1000m
Cycling – Track M Team Pursuit
Hockey M Team
Rowing W Single Sculls K. Brennan
Rugby Sevens W Team
Sailing M 470 M. Belcher/Ryan
Shooting M 50m Rifle Prone W. Potent
Swimming M 100m Freestyle C. McEvoy
Swimming M 400m Freestyle M. Horton
Swimming M 100m Backstroke M. Larkin
Swimming M 200m Backstroke M. Larkin
Swimming W 50m Freestyle C. Campbell
Swimming W 100m Freestyle C. Campbell
Swimming W 100m Backstroke E. Seebohm
Swimming W 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay

http://sportsdemo1.gracenote.com/documentation/vmt#demo

The Australian Olympic Committee is predicting 13 gold medals among 37 medals overall. They’ve added two women’s cycling gold and stuck to the big chances elsewhere.

GOLD: Anna Meares (Cycling, Keirin), Annette Edmondson (Cycling, Omnuim), Women’s Team Pursuit (Cycling), Men’s hockey team, Kim Crow (Rowing, women’s single sculls), Mathew Belcher and Ryan Will (Sailing, 470), Mitch Larkin (Swimming, 100m backstroke, 200m backstroke), Cate Campbell (Swimming 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle), Emily Seebohm (Swimming 100m backstroke, 200m backstroke), women’s 4x100m freestyle relay (Swimming).

SILVER: Fabrice Lapierre (Athletic, long jump), Jared Tallent (Athletics, 50km walk), Kenith Wallace and Lachlan Tame (Canoe/Kayak, K2 1000m), Caroline Buchanan (Cycling, women’s BMX), Michael Mathews (Cycling, road race), Glenn O’Shea (Cycling, Omnium), men’s fours (rowing), men’s quadruple sculls (rowing), women’s rugby sevens team, Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin (Sailing, Nacra 17), Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen (Sailing, 49er), men’s 4×100 medley relay (Swimming), Cameron McEvoy (Swimming, 100m freestyle), Madison Wilson (Swimming, 100m backstroke), Casey Dellacqua (Tennis, women’s doubles), John Peers (Tennis, Men’s doubles).

BRONZE: Women’s basketball team, Anna Meares and Kaarle McCulloch (Cycling, team sprint), men’s team pursuit (Cycling), Samantha Mills and Esther Qin (Diving, 3m synchronised springboard), Tom Burton (Sailing, laser), women’s 4x100m medley relay (Swimming), men’s 4x200m freestyle relay (Swimming), Cate Campbell (Swimming, 100m freestyle), Jessica Ashwood (Swimming, 400m freestyle)

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Ambushed by Jordan… again

09 October 2015

08/10 Amman: Jordan 2 – Australia 0

After three relatively easy games in this first group phase of World Cup qualifying, Australia had its big test – away to Jordan – and failed… again. Like in 2012, Australia found itself 2-0 down in Amman. Unlike 2012, there’d be no last minute Australian goal to provide a small glimmer of hope to snatch a draw. The patterns of each match were eerily similar: Australia trying to control the game via possession, Australia wasting possession, Australia wasting chances, Jordan ambushing Australia, Jordan deserved winners. To be out-smarted once is bad enough; for it to happen twice shows an inability to learn. Whether that’s arrogance, in that Australia still has the mindset about Asia that “we should just beat these teams”, there still seems some residual notion of that.

The Asian Football Confederation has revamped its qualifying path, making a much streamlined affair, and also merging Asian Cup qualifying into the process. While the first phase is notionally more difficult with more teams in the groups and only the top team guaranteed to the second group phase, there’s actually more groups this time (8), most of the weaker nations are still involved (pre-qualifying only saw 6 eliminated), and the four best second placed teams also progress. Right now, Australia are the third best of the second placed teams. They also have the luxury of three of their final four matches at home, so have a great chance to reverse the result against Jordan (as they did last time with a 4-0 win in Melbourne), and accrue enough points that finishing second in the group would most likely be enough. The only away match is to Bangladesh, while Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Jordan are the home matches.

All the teams that advance from this first group phase automatically qualify for an expanded Asian Cup of 2019 while the rest play Asian Cup qualifiers as the second group phase of World Cup qualifying is on. It’s a thoroughly well thought and practical system. There were always too many qualifying matches, particularly for the Asian Cup, of which most bordered on training affairs for the bigger nations. Also, the smaller nations deserve their chance against the bigger ones in serious competition, while the bigger ones get to experience new countries and cultures like Australia has with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

The big message from this game against Jordan is that Australia needs to change its approach when playing overseas against Middle Eastern teams. They are prepared to be patient and capitalise on mistakes, whether those mistakes be carelessness or from opposing pressure. All the talk of “controlling the game” is nonsense if there’s no reward for it. Arguably Jordan controlled the game much better despite conceding possession. Th axiom remains that it’s about usage of the ball, not the amount of time with it. Home teams like Jordan for this match are the ones under pressure to win. Therefore they should be respected in that manner. Allow them a bit of the ball. Let them take some risks coming forward. Let Australia do the ambushing.

One thing that won’t help is complaining about time wasting. Until FIFA clamps down on it with 10 minute expulsion of a player from the game for calling on a doctor, it’s a legitimate part of the game. Once Jordan took the lead just after half time, Australia allowed their frustration to affect their game. Tim Cahill was lucky not to spotted for knocking over a player off the ball late in the game. Cahill might also have already been aggrieved at being, again, a late substitution onto the field. It seems that coach Ange Postecoglou might be fading him from the first team selection, just in case he doesn’t last until the next World Cup.

Both of Jordan’s goals were apparently contentious. The first one came after Nathan Burns was dispossessed in midfield and a long ball sent through that saw Matthew Spiranovic concede a penalty. TV pundits mused whether Spiranovic should have been sent of as well. No. First, it was a 50/50 hustle for the ball that saw an inadvertent clip of Hamza Aldaradreh’s trailing leg. It’s not even a yellow card. Second, no goal scoring chance was denied. Jordan actually had a better chance thanks to it being a penalty, and it was duly converted by Hassan Mahmoud.

The second goal came after yet another 50/50 hustle, this time involving Jason Davidson after 84 minutes. He and his opponent both fell in the clash, which saw the ball then passed into space for Aldaradreh to pounce, and score. If anything, Davidson might have been called for obstruction after he seemed to trip himself first and then angled his body in front of his opponent, which contributed to the push he may then have received. While commentator Andy Harper was adamant it was a foul, those in the Fox Sports studio were not. Since Harper is also one that seems to want any hint of offside called, maybe it’s just best to disqualify his inane opinion on such matters. Both goals were totally fair. Football has a mystique of infairness onto which it prides itself, so the fair thing is to accept being beaten fairly, and by a better team, and learn for next time.

Previous Results

08/09 Dushanbe: Tajikistan 0 – Australia 3
Great perseverance by Australia. It took until 57 minutes to score, before another on 73 and then one more in injury time. Biggest fear seemed whether the stadium’s lighting would be strong enough.

03/09 Perth: Australia 5 – Bangladesh 0
After two goals in the first 8 minutes, this match started reminiscent of the first 10 minutes of American Samoa v Australia. American Samoa kept it 0-0 for 10 minutes before losing 31-0. Unlike American Samoa that could not hold on, Bangladesh conceded two more by 29 minutes and then only one more for the remainder of the game.

16/06 Bishket: Kyrgyzstan 1 – Australia 2
Unlucky to concede after two minutes from a bobbled free kick. Despite upsetting the Socceroos with their fast and direct style, Kyrgyzstan restricted mostly to spraying mid and long range shots. Class told in end.

Full site: socceroorealm.com

Sochi 2014 – Champs, Chumps and Putin

16 March 2014

The story of Australia’s mixed effort and Vladimir Putin playing the world as fools

After international football, the Olympics are the Socceroo Realm’s other great passion. That’s because, like football, the prestige of winning and representing your country is so huge. While much of the excitement of gold medals by Australia is diminished in the recent 15 years because Australia wins so many, the individual stories of specific triumphs still resonate. Indeed, after Australia’s appalling start to London, the sailors getting the nation’s first gold, and then Sally Pearson and Anna Meares adding to it not long after, were really moments to savour.

Given that Australia is a minor player, the Winter Games are a different beast. For the purity of sport, that actually translates quite well because one of the big criticisms of the summer Games is that focus is so nationalistic. You don’t see athletes from other nations, or even experience entire slabs of a sporting event, because the broadcaster is enamoured with showing the cursory Australian in 30th spot about to throw their javelin, or the cursory Australian being hammered by the Chinese at table tennis and about to lose their final few points.

Sochi 2014 was the first Games to merge the two. Talk of Australia with “12 medal” chances was optimistic in the extreme, with those chances realistically being “best day” scenarios of the athlete excelling and bad luck hitting a few opponents. The real expectation was 4, as identified by the highly accurate and well researched American magazine, Sports Illustrated.

Of course, so many potential medal hopes still meant many Australians in action, and the potential demise of large slabs of sporting drama to be consigned to news clippings. Conveniently, pay-TV has emerged to save fans in Australia from this never ending flag waving “oi oi oi” parochialism. Even though Channel 10 chose internet streaming for its supplementary coverage, not the four pay-TV stations that Channel 9 offered 4 years ago, their second free channel, One HD proved an adequate companion. Their overall telecast was good, with decent slabs of live viewing, excellent interviews and, given Australia’s obvious lack of abundant resources, surprisingly adequate commentators. After Melanie McLaughlin’s acquisition of a nasally bogan accent to fit in with the majority of on-screen Channel 10 personnel (she was recruited from Fox Sports where she sounded far more refined), the only hiccup I saw was going to an advertising break when the Austrian World Champion in the men’s slalom was about to make his run. Yes, his run was fastest, and stayed fastest of the remaining seven skiers for gold. Showing his run after the event as a replay, it doesn’t quite offer the same level of excitement.

Also great about the Winter Games is the totally different types of athletes, sports and vistas on offer. Speed skating (especially short track), cross country skiing and biathlon produce some of the most exciting direct racing possible. Far more exciting than people running around an oval track or swimming up and down a pool. Without the Winter Olympics, how else could I have a favourite cross-country skier, Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland? In Vancouver it took her until the 30km classical cross-country, the very last event, to shake off the Norwegians and finally win a gold. In Sochi she managed it early on, in the 10km classical, to become a dual gold medallist. There’s also the “Generation Y” sports like snowboarding and ski-cross to add more relevance for the youth of today, and also easier consumption to traditional alpine events that are decided by times and require dedicated viewing of the entire event to appreciate the competition.

Sochi was the first Olympics to return to Russia since Moscow in 1980. No expense was spared with virtually everything built from scratch, costing over $50b. To put that in perspective, London 2012 cost $12b – for a far larger Games. Being in Russia also presented the political controversy you’d expect, especially anti-gay laws. While the law against “gay propaganda” was new, Russia has always been anti-gay, so it’s mysterious that only on the dawn of the event that these issues become a problem – a repeat of the case with China’s Games of 2008 and the issue of Tibet. Terrorism was also a worry. Russian president Vladimir Putin would hear none of it. Nothing would stop these Games from being a success.

Champs

Australia finished with two silver and one bronze. Two of those were from expected sources, the other not so expected. They also told a tale in approach to winning those medals. David Morris, barely a top 12 hope in men’s aerials, approached his event with a strategy to achieve the best possible result. While other athletes could still out-score him on higher technical jumps, he knew he couldn’t compete directly with them so put himself in the best possible situation to be a “nuisance” to them, by sticking his jumps, ensuring they had to perform.

Morris landed cleanly all his jumps as he progressed through the last 12, to the last 8 (just) and to the last four (just). Once there, he landed his “money jump” to score 110.41 and give the remaining athletes no leeway for mistakes. Anton Kushnir, the Belarussian favourite, was next, and nailed his higher difficulty jump, scoring 134.50 to annihilate Morris’ score as expected. That put extra pressure on the remaining to jumpers, both Chinese. The first didn’t land cleanly, Bronze to Morris. The second didn’t land cleanly, Silver to Morris.

Torah Bright backed up her gold from Vancouver to nail silver in Sochi. Eerily, her performances were similar, crashing her first run, before completing the second. The only disappointment is that her first run was shaping up much better and would have won the gold easily. Her second, by many experts, was still good enough for gold, failing by just .25 points – the closest possible margin.

The winner, Kaitlyn Farrington of the USA, didn’t seem to have a run quite of the same quality. It was close, and as Torah said, that’s the nature of judged sports. Even then, there’s some residual regret that could have done better. The cavalier approach that the snowboarders take to the events is difficult to rationalise compared to the stoic concentration you see of athletes in other sports. While it could just be a coping mechanism for the stress of competition, it could also just mean that tiny fraction of effort and concentration lost that costs you a gold.

Torah also undertook two new events: slope-style and boardercross, and apparently did no training at all for halfpipe in the two months prior to the Games. She preferred to concentrate on boardercross in which she was only a late inclusion after injuries to other competitors before the Games and entered lowest ranked overall. She failed to progress from the first knockout race. If the cavalier approach didn’t hurt, maybe the reduced training did, especially for that first run crash. Compared to Vancouver, Torah’s run didn’t seem as polished nor did it match her score in qualifying in Sochi, where she returned the highest score of the entire contest – 93.00 (out of a possible 100). Her silver medal winning run scored 91.50. In Vancouver 2010 she scored 45.00 under a different scoring system, after scoring 45.8 in qualifying.

Torah Bright Half-Pipe Sochi 2014

Torah Bright in half-pipe action at Sochi 2014

Towards the end of the Games, former aerialist Jacqui Cooper slammed Torah for selfishness. “Whether she likes it or not, she’s actually a role model. A role model for athletes, maybe even a role model for parents and if Torah thinks someone’s getting hard done by, or if Torah thinks this or if Torah thinks that, people are going to actually jump on her bandwagon. So to create such a negative vibe during the Olympic Games – I almost think she should be ashamed of herself.”

Torah was at the centre of the “team outcast” affair, claiming other athletes were getting undeserved funding priority over others. World Champion Alex Pullin was singled out as “the chosen one” ahead of other snowboarders fighting their way through the ranks, and indeed, often already top 10 world ranked athletes. During halfpipe training at the Games Torah was critical of its shape, which only fed the selfish, spoilt narrative Cooper, along with several media trying to validate their character assassinations of Bright, was trying to push. Except, all athletes complained about the shape of the halfpipe at the time, and it was promptly fixed.

The criticism from Cooper was unjust. Jacqui Cooper was an Olympic flop and should be last to talk about “results” and “role models”. Due to the “team outcast” affair, funding models across the winter sports will be examined.

Chumps

Lydia Lassila, queen of aerials in Vancouver, sorry to say, was a disappointment here. Not in the medal, in the approach. The whole week the story proliferated of her performing an unprecedented quad-twisting jump. No woman had done it in competition; it was only the domain of the men, who were now creeping into the realm of 5 twists for a jump. Lassila only landed one in training, and that was barely a landing, and would not have sufficed as a good scoring jump in the Games. Coming into the final four of the final, the leading jump was only 99.01 with only one jumper left after Lassila. Given she scored 214 for two jumps under a different system in Vancouver, a score just over 100 with one of her triple twisting jumps was easily a gold medal, or silver at worst. No, toss away the highest percentage chance and go for the lowest percentage jump for some sort of glory to the ego. While she would have a certain gold via a huge margin had she nailed it, they don’t reward any extra for that. Surely it’s best to stick with the “money jump” in the final? Just ask David Morris!

The thing is, there’s countless World Cup events during the season that a quad-twist could be attempted “in competition”. Why do it at the biggest event of all that only comes across once ever four years? It actually smacks of an athlete under extreme pressure, not wanting to fail. By attempting the impossible jump it actually is impossible to fail. No one expects her to land it, so if she does, it becomes a miracle. If you fail, at least “you had a go” and “left nothing on the table”. It’s very typical of the Australian “bully sports pscyche”. The response to a challenge is often to bully the opposition and try dominate the task. Cricketers are the worst by often blazing away in tight run chases, swimmers are next by starting races too hard and using “it’s a racing meet” as an excuse for the loss, the Socceroos began to show hints of it in Asian World Cup qualifiers, and now we see it creep elsewhere.

The only saving grace of Lassila’s bizarre tactics is that her good friend Alla Tsuper of Belarus won gold. It was Tsuper’s fifth Games and finally she snagged the gold after so many years of dominating the sport and, like Lassila, having a baby. The tears that Lassila shed after the competition were primarily for Tsuper. In that sense it was a storybook finish, as Lassila already had a gold from Vancouver, now her friend has one. Strangely, Channel 10 commentators didn’t even recognise the nature of these tears, figuring it was sadness and disappointment at failure. As if! Maybe had one of the Chinese skiiers snatched the gold instead of Tsuper, then the story not quite the happy ending, and then would come the niggling regret.

Alex “Chumpy” Pullin. He doesn’t know how he got that nickname as given during childhood. It’s clear now. He’s a chump! Twice world champion, twice World Cup winner, twice favourite for Olympic Gold, twice fastest in qualifying, twice a monumental flop. He fell innocuously during the quarter-finals of racing, just like in Vancouver. What gives? Well, he stopped training in the lead-up to the Games to avoid any chance of injury. Say what? He stopped training in the lead-up to the Games to avoid any chance of injury. Yes! He stopped training in the lead-up to the Games to avoid any chance of injury. Even though Torah Bright ceased training for her pet event of halfpipe, she still did continue to train on snowboard for her other two events. That at least kept her sharp for competition. Clearly the strategy didn’t work for the Chumpster. No wonder Torah and the other snowboards were questioning the funding system. It actually costs nothing not to train.

Pullin wasn’t the only one to fall. Virtually the entire snowboard and ski cross events were beset by falling Australian athletes. It’s enough to give anyone the feeling that Australia and winter sports are not a natural fit. Wait!

Putin

One might think Vladimir Putin is the biggest chump of Sochi 2014. He’s not. Despite all the talk of terrorism, anti-gay propaganda and lack of snow, Russia and Putin get the last laugh. Russia won the medal tally, kept all venues secure, managed to reverse global warming for several week, and curtailed any attempts for mass demonstrations or even athletes making a stand against Russia’s poor gay rights. They did it with all the control you’d expect from a government led by a former KGB agent that it was almost invisible. Almost, because adding the names “Viktor” to recruits An (short track speed skating) and Wild (snowboard parallel slalom) did not quite assuage the reality of foreigners (Korea and USA, respectively) delivering 5 of Russia’s 13 gold medals. Travelling too far away from the Olympic venues and Sochi in general, you’d also have been greeted with a “ring of steel” guarding the city.

A new event was added of team figure skating that delivered a certain gold individually for the nation and to the ten individual Russian skaters that comprised the team. Talk about spreading the wealth. To reduce suggestions of a scam, the luge was also given a team event, which Germany somehow won after earlier winning all the individual events that comprised the team event. All that sliding on your back, you’d think that would tire a team out. Obviously not. To think, someone gets paid for dreaming up these events. What next, Short Track Taekwondo at PyeongChang for 2018?

If Russia made one mistake in their run for medal tally glory, it was not to recruit the entire Dutch speed skating team. The Dutch won over 70% of all medals for the sport: 8 gold, 7 silver and 8 bronze. Their one and only other medal was a bronze from short track speed skating. This must have been one of those Dutch skaters showing great agility on the inner warm-up ring so the Dutch coaches decided to throw the athlete onto an actual short track. No suggestions yet of a team speed skating event that incorporates all events and awards every Dutch speed skater a gold medal. Probably because nearly all of them won one anyway.

Of course, there was one Russian failure. That was ice hockey in which Russia lost to Finland in the quarter finals. The country threatened to go into mourning while Putin scurried away to figure out the ramifications for the team and how to console the nation. The solution was heavy make-up to prevent any cracks or emotion in his pristine, stoic face emerging. Before Putin ever needed to present himself for potential public embarrassment, up pops the Americans to be hammered 5-0 by Finland in the bronze medal game. Russia sleeps well at night with the knowledge that whatever Russia stinks at, USA stinks worse. Nah nah-nah nah-nah nah.

Beyond the great and glorious Games of Russian glory, slick organisation and toilets that actually do work, Putin saved his coup de gras for after the Games. As the world absorbs the waft of post Olympic harmony, Putin moves mobilises Russian troops in Crimean region of Ukraine. It’s been totally orchestrated by Putin, starting by revving up Russians in Ukraine to resist moves by Ukraine to join the European Union after a law was just passed to make Ukrainian the sole official language. Ukrainians and Russians clash outside the parliament building, the Russian friendly president is deposed, the former opposition leader is released from jail, and a more sympathetic president installed as interim. Russians in Crimea feel threatened, in moves Putin, Russian troops take control of the region, the region orchestrates a phony election to secede, it won’t have any legitimacy, will the region be annexed by Russia, we’ll soon know.

Having visited the region, most particularly Estonia and Latvia, one thing is certain about Russians: they will always regard themselves as Russian. They’re a gruff people, contemptuous of the locals. The Baltic states can be thankful for being so small and not as geographically important, and being members of both NATO and the European Union offers plenty of protection. Crimea is on the Black Sea, home to Russia’s southern naval fleet, so important militarily. Ukraine’s attempt to join the EU and further dismantle Russian grip in Europe, precipitated this entire affair.

One thing is certain about Putin: he will always regard himself as Putin. He’s a gruff person, contemptuous of everybody and everything else. The Olympics, the anti-gay laws – it’s all been about Russian grandstanding to antagonise the west, especially the USA. Barack Obama snubbing the Olympics was Putin’s goal, and now with the Olympics over, Putin makes his big move. While Obama and the west stumble about responding to Crimea, Putin’s simply reveling in his power. Much of Europe depends on Russia for oil and gas so are constrained to act, the Americans are too weary and lack any real strategy to intercede, and Ukraine ultimately would be better served without the millions of Russians forming part of their country.

Putin gets the Games, gets the Glory and gets Crimea (if he really wants it). The biggest chumps of Sochi 2014 prove to be the rest of the world. Putin thanks you for your attention.

If you liked this, check London 2012 – Hits, Misses and Meltdowns