Green and gold tears have a beautiful silver lining
Nick D’Arcy did bugger all in the London pool this morning, and can now bugger off and pay his debts to society and Simon Cowley. Won’t happen of course, but it doesn’t hurt to dream.
But not every “loser” at these Olympics is as uninspiring as D’Arcy. Many are winners. Take Emily Seebohm, who won silver in the 100m backstroke this morning. That’s right, the 20 year old Adelaidean “won” silver, even though on face value you could say she “lost” gold as she was overhauled by 17 year old American Missy Franklin in the final strokes.
Seebohm was devastated and in tears afterwards. “I just wish I could have finished it off, I feel like I disappointed my parents, and my coach just worked so hard for me, this is so tough,” she said. She’s wrong. Despite being a clear cut favourite after breaking the Olympic record in the semis, Seebohm disappointed nobody.
Athletes across all sports can be ruthless people, who will often tell you that second place is “first loser”. That’s ridiculous. There are three spots on what Channel Nine commentators infuriatingly keep calling a “dias”, and those extra two spots are there for good reason.
Silver can be an unwelcome medal for athletes for the blindingly obvious reason that it’s the closest thing to gold. Often, athletes seem to enjoy the bronze more, as it’s better than the dreaded fourth, and hey, you weren’t going to win anyway.
But there are times when silver is a joyous celebration. In Sydney, jumping Jai Taurima looked like the bloke serving hot dogs outside the main stadium. But he led the long jump, and was only pipped by the Cuban on the last jump in a thrilling tussle which captivated a nation. Tatiana Grigorieva did likewise in the pole vault. No one called them losers. Their silver medals were both triumphs.
And of course, the most famously exultant Australian silver medal of all came in Beijing. Sally Pearson’s interview with Seven’s Pat Welsh 100m after the hurdles was an all-time great moment in both space cadetship and sheer joy. Try telling Sally that she was the first loser in that race.
And try telling it to Christian Sprenger, who was fabulous both in the pool and in post-swim interviews after winning silver for Australia yesterday in the 100m breaststroke.
There is a tendency among the Australian public, outlined today by David Penberthy, to demand medals as the bang for our taxpayer’s buck which funds Olympians to the tune of hundreds of millions. Some of us feel that way, but most of us are not really that harsh in our expectations.
We love gold, sure, but we’re happy to see a medal of any colour from a graceful athlete and be entertained on the way. To dig deep into the cliché bag, we mostly just want to enjoy what athletes invariably call the “journey”.
Seebohm’s sporting journey started early. She won world championships relay gold aged just 14, and is already a dual gold medallist in Olympic relays. She had all kinds of illness in 2011, recovered, but last night just wasn’t her night. That said, her tearful pooldeck performance – though she won’t have intended it – was wonderful.
That’s the thing about an athlete’s “journey”. It continues beyond their sporting performance. That’s what made James Magnussen’s surly behaviour the previous night so hard to swallow. And did anyone else notice Nick D’Arcy top off his completely unremarkable swimming career by walking away from the pooldeck before his team-mate had finished his interview? The guy really needs to take a five year degree in life skills.
With her hair dry on the Channel Nine couch, Seebohm said she’d use her silver as motivation for gold in the future. Good luck to her, but some of us won’t be perturbed if there’s more Aussie silver in the days ahead. In many ways, it’s the most interesting medal of all. Gold medallists are always happy, that’s a given. Silver reveals character.
And by the way, if anyone needs official recognition that silver medals are valued by our Olympic chiefs, take a look at our flagbearer at these games. Her name is Lauren Jackson and she’s won three of them in Olympic basketball.
Overnight, Jackson’s Opals lost an overtime match to France, despite an unbelievable Belinda Snell buzzer-beater to tie the game, The incredible shot was fired from well inside her own half and would go viral on Youtube if only the IOC would allow it.
In all likelihood, the Opals won’t win gold again in London. But that doesn’t mean they’re not winners. Emily Seebohm is a winner too. When the tears dry, she’ll realise her humility is worth more than gold, even if the breakfast cereal companies and some of the more mean-spirited taxpayers don’t see it that way.
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