Fundamentally, we follow sport in pursuit of joy: the excitement of the contest, the awe of achievement, the triumph of victory. No one forces us to be sports fans. We are so because we enjoy it. But part of the attraction is drama. And with drama comes pain.

On the nose… but disappointment paves the path to glory. We hope! Pic: Phil Hillyard

Two weekends ago I was on the brink of a feeling not experienced by an Australian golf fan for six years: we were about to win a major. As Adam Scott carved up the field over three rounds of the British Open I reveled in the delicious anticipation of what was about to ensue in the early hours of Monday morning.

Setting my alarm for 1.15am, I got up to watch the back nine and shepherd our boy home. I picked up Adam Scott at the turn and as others were faltering he was holding his nerve and his line. Before long he had a five shot break on the rest of the field. Sensing that Scotty didn’t need my help, I set the alarm for 2.45am just in time for the triumphal march, and promptly went back to sleep.

Waking again I found Adam Scott on the 16th where he’d just had a bogey on the previous hole. But he had shots to burn and his drive on 16 was straight down the middle.

And then it happened.

In the space of about a minute, Scott missed a two foot putt while Ernie Els hit his approach shot on 18 to about ten feet. His lead was about to be cut to just one and the impending train wreck was very suddenly and very horribly, very inevitable.

Over the next 40 minutes Adam Scott’s lifetime achievement, Australia’s best hope for a major in six years, and my weekend of excited expectation went up in smoke. Two weeks later I am far from having gotten over it.

I can only imagine what it would have been like to have been a French golf fan, anticipating your first ever major victory and watching Jean van de Velde blow a three shot lead on the very last hole of the 1999 British Open. The scene of Van de Velde taking off his shoes and rolling up his pants so that he could wade into the water and attempt to hit his shot out of a creek was more appalling than the most epic of Greek tragedies. His life was being defined in a few brief moments by that which he did not achieve.

Ironically, his failure has made him far more famous than if he’d won. In fact no-one can remember who actually did win that British Open.

I had a round of golf with Van de Velde last year. Not surprisingly he has become a philosopher. Thankfully he has a well developed sense of humour.

My worst moment as a sports fan came in the 2008 AFL Grand Final. Having put together the best home and away season since 1929, Geelong came into the Grand Final having only lost one game. During Grand Final week I had already banked the Premiership, unfurled the Flag, and mentally engraved our name on the cup. Any other result would be a travesty.

What unfolded in the game itself was a medieval nightmare. In footballing justice terms this was nothing short of an atrocity. To be sure, Hawthorn’s victory was hollow, but I remained in denial about our defeat for years. I still wonder whether there isn’t some way to change the AFL’s historical record.

Over the last few days, as we have all set our alarms to the wee hours, our experiences of the Olympics have been more characterised by pain than joy. The Men’s 100m Relay team misfired. In the individual event James Magnussen missed his deserved place in Australian sporting lore by a finger touch. The injuries which have plagued Stephanie Rice have taken their toll.

Emily Seebohm cried for us all.

Suddenly the currency of Olympic gold medals, which have rained upon us in recent games, has been re-valued to that rarest of feats, that most elusive of sporting prizes which is handed out by less than a handful every four years.

Yet it is precisely this increasing value of the currency which is the point of sports fan pain. Part of why Kieren Perkins’ swim in the 1500m at Atlanta is one of the great moments in Australian sport is that it came off the back of a swim meet, where up to that point, we’d only won a single gold medal. In the midst of a drought, his triumph was truly glorious.

For it is failure which highlights success. It is the pain which gives us the joy.

Most commented


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    • Team GB says:

      06:23am | 07/08/12

      I have always thought of Australians as positive and optimistic and considered that to be one of the secrets to their sporting success in the past. But the general Aussie approach to London 2012 has been mired in a black cloud negativity. Complaining about the weather, whinging about the hosts, turning on your athletes, constantly searching for negative news angles. From the outset the Team Australia mantra was not to focus on their own excellence but to “rain on the Poms’ parade” “spoil the Brits’ party”. Wow what a marvellous attitude to bring with you.

      Frankly you have got what you deserved. The atmosphere in the UK is electric right now, and if you are willing to drop the attitude it’s not too late for you to salvage some enjoyment from these Games before it’s too late. You do seem to be bloody good at the sailing wink

    • Little Joe says:

      09:12am | 07/08/12

      “turning on your atheletes”??? Sorry .... that is just in the media!!! They celebrate victories to sell advertising space ..... and if they don’t win they will crucify them for coming, of all things, SECOND!!! ..... all to sell media space!!!

      Think about it ..... if Tomic made it to the final of Wimbledon he would have revered in the media. When an Australian gets pipped by 0.01 second for gold in a swimming race .... he gets dumped on!!!

      So to all you lazy, jelly-belly journo’s and editors, who wouldn’t be capable of running 1000m, swimming 400m, balancing in a boat, hang suspended from rings for 60 seconds or flat out holding a shotput in one hand, and who have chosen to be over critical of our marvellous atheletes ..... YOU SUCK!!!

      But to our wonderful Olympians ..... I and millions of other Australians are exceptionally proud of your wonderful efforts. You gave your all and that is all you can give.

    • Venise Alstergren says:

      03:06pm | 08/08/12

      TEAM GB is on the money about a black cloud of negativity being issued by the press-one half wit even went so far as to suggest the Olympics to be a grudge match between Britain and us.

      Be prepared for the tidal wave of misinformation which is coming after the games. It’s all a gigantic plot to increase the government (meaning the tax payers) subsidies of the AIS. If anything should be cut back to size it should be the swimming events, everyone else has tried their hearts out.

      Coates should understand that no problem is ever solved by just throwing more money at it.

    • S.L says:

      06:31am | 07/08/12

      As a lifelong Balmain/Wests Tigers supporter there are 2 back to back Grand finals I prefer to forget. Even the 2005 victory with Benji’s famous flick pass does little to ease the pain of 15 years earlier.
      Thankfully there are also many great sporting memories on a personal note as well as on the big stage to keep me watching and participating.

    • nihonin says:

      08:11am | 07/08/12

      How’s about the Buunies, nothing for about 40 years, kicked out of the comp then reinstated, but now, things are looking up for the team and their supporters, Go the Rabbitohs.

    • TimB says:

      08:12am | 07/08/12

      That’s strange. My memories of the 1988 grand final are rather vague (being all of 4 years old at the time), but I remember what few memories I have of that day rather fondly smile wink .

      Actually my fondest rugby league memory was of the crying Roosters supporter after Canterbury won the 2004 grand final. Good times.

    • HappyG says:

      11:46am | 07/08/12

      From a purely selfish perspective my all time favourite League memory was the 1997 GF when my beloved Knights beat the despised Manly silvertails in the last 10 seconds of the match. But the best GF ever from a neutral standpoint was the Balmain vs Canberra match in 1989?, kept me on the edge of my seat all the way through.

    • Mahhrat says:

      07:31am | 07/08/12

      Good summary; it is the pain that brings us joy, the achievement is the reward, not the shiny baubles.

      It’s something I think many of us have forgotten.  Pride is not a thing other people give you, it’s something you give yourself.  I think that’s why the longjump fellow blasted the media yesterday.  He’s obviously quite proud of the fact that he is officially the second best jumped on the planet, and yet it was inferred he should be disappointed?  C’mon.

    • M says:

      08:19am | 07/08/12

      Simoncelli’s passing was my worst moment.

    • Anna C says:

      09:43am | 07/08/12

      “The more we lose, the sweeter our victories.”

      That may well be the case but I would still like a refund for all the money we have spent on these so called ‘elite’ athletes.  If we aren’t going to get any medals then I would much prefer that my money was spent funding grassroots sports.

    • Phillb says:

      11:12am | 07/08/12

      There is a big difference int he attitude of our athletes and the best way to observe it is watch them not take the gold. 
      Look at Jess Fox who is over the moon to be an Olympian, let alone win a medal.  Then compare her reaction after the race to that to some of our swimmers who thought they had the gold before even getting in the water.  There is a big difference between confidence and cockiness.
      The lack of PB’s is another teller.  Some of our athletes were taking the gold for granted and not putting in their best effort.
      Don’t blame the media either.  These are professional athletes who should be better disciplined.

      To put it bluntly, some of our athletes reactions not winning gold is just embarrassing.  They look like spoilt little brats.

    • antman says:

      01:13pm | 07/08/12

      I think this is the point that many are missing.

      If someone swims, runs, jumps, throws etc. a PB in a final, when they perform well above expectations, then we can all feel proud for them whether they earn a medal of any colour or not. However, when they fail to even match their achievements that led to their selections or they perform well below their heat or semi-final performances in the medal round, then you have to ask whether they really had the hunger, the dedication or the pride (in their country as much as in themselves) that we are entitled to expect from those in whom we invest so much. In those cases, I hope that their poor reactions were caused by embarrassment, because they should be very embarrassed.

    • ADOLPH STALIN says:

      11:48am | 07/08/12

      Our athletes competed to be selected to go to the olympics to compete against the best of other countries,the olympic spirit is lost when we think not winning is some sort of shame,the best competing against the best is what its about and if another country wins we should congratulate them and praise our ones for giving there best shot. the athletes who whine and cry seem to have that aussie disease of entitlement and the journos who report badly on people who dont win should be ashamed of themselves

    • Colin says:

      12:27pm | 07/08/12

      Sorry, how many million$ did we waste on these people again..?

    • HappyG says:

      01:22pm | 07/08/12

      Hi Colin. Still high on Olympic spirit I see. Never mind it’s nearly over.

    • Colin says:

      02:10pm | 07/08/12

      @HappyG 01:22pm | 07/08/12

      “...Never mind it’s nearly over…”


    • St. Michael says:

      01:31pm | 07/08/12

      A Labor MP saying “the more we lose, the sweeter our victories?” Well, put 2040 or so down in the diary, mate, because judging by the ALP’s likely result in the next Federal election, that’s going to be a party not to be missed.


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