The whinger games
Great Britain has put on a magnificent Olympics with fantastic venues, surprisingly good weather, enthusiastic fans and, touch wood, no serious security breaches or major drug scandals involving big-name athletes.
Immediately before the Games, as in the lead-up Sydney 2000, there was much moaning from locals lamenting the cost and inconvenience of it all. As in Sydney, all of that vanished the minute the flame was lit.
The British tabloids have taken predictable swipes at Australia’s lowly standing on the medal table relative to team GB, which was predictable and no more or less than we would have done. But that’s nothing compared to the venom with which Australia has attacked itself during these Games.
No matter what surprise golden moments remain in store for Australia, these Olympics already have their stamp. For Australia, these have been the Olympics of sniping, of infighting, of labelling, and of counter-labelling those who label. It has been a two week squabble, a philosophical shitfight of carbon tax proportions, and none of us have come out of it looking too good.
Overnight, we saw some wonderful moments from Australian athletes. There was that front-running gold in the kayaking by four blokes most people had never heard of, a thrilling bronze from our water polo women against Hungary, and silver in the 10m platform diving from the youngest member of our Olympic team, Brittany Roben. Can anyone else believe the Brittany/Britney generation is suddenly old enough to stand on an Olympic dais?
Ah, but as ever at these Games, the biggest Australian story of the night had a nastier tone. The story concerned the post-race exchange between Channel 9 interviewer Tony Jones and 4x400m relay runner John Steffensen. To be frank, both were as bad as each other.
As many people on social media sites have pointed out, Jones was way out of line in his attempt to pry some controversy out of Steffensen. But Steffensen, too, was up to his usual tricks. He had clearly conceded ground in his leg of the relay, and admitted he didn’t run his best. But he then appeared to lay blame on his team for not performing well either.
So there it was. A microcosm of so much that we’ve seen in the last two weeks. Australians performing below expectations, the media asking questions about that sub-par performance and a bunch of athletes not sure how to deal with their disappointment.
Admittedly, Tony Jones was needlessly belligerent and John Steffensen is, well, John Steffensen. So last night’s little tête-à-tête was a rather extreme example of all that has been ugly for Australia at these games.
All the same, it had a familiar tone, and a tone which was set at the swimming pool a week earlier.
Australia’s swimming campaign can basically be summarised thus: A group of athletes, funded by taxpayers to the tune of $10.5 million a year, didn’t perform as well as expected. Many of these athletes have their walls plastered with slogans like “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” and “second is first loser”. Most of them clearly came to London to win.
With the exception of the women’s 4x100m relay team, they didn’t. As the silvers rolled in, Australian journalists first congratulated our athletes on being second best in the world, then rightly asked whether they were disappointed. Admittedly, on one or two occasions, the question came a little too quickly. But mostly, the question was begging to be asked and was asked in respectful tones.
Indeed, as I write this, a Nine interviewer was telling basketaller Liz Cambage to “hold your head up high” after the Opals were beaten by America.
The media hasn’t been all negative. Yet we have been bagged. A very senior journalist friend of mine from a major national media organisation was chastised by his bosses for daring to ask whether a high-profile silver medallist in another sport was disappointed after having started red hot favourite in his event. Again, the journo had congratulated the athlete first. Was he then not entitled to ask the obvious follow-up question?
Taxpayers will certainly be asking follow-up questions of the AOC after London, as they are perfectly entitled to do.
If you draw the frame really wide, the Olympic Games is an event with dramatically mixed messages. Its official motto “citius, altius, fortius”, which translates as “faster, higher, stronger”, doesn’t leave much room for a celebration of second best.
Yet there are three spots on the podium, and there is also that heavily nuanced, amorphous concept called “Olympic spirit” which welcomes the Eric the Eels and Eddie the Eagles of the world and pretty much anyone who just has a go. All of them receive the lifelong title of “Olympian”.
Australians respect that honorific. We truly admire anyone who has competed at an Olympic Games. We get the hard training and everything else - even if most of us are not so sold on the concept of “sacrifice” while we slog it out doing real jobs.
But if you narrow that frame and bring it in really close, there is something we respect even more than the effort our Olympians put it. It’s people who don’t whinge.
There have been a few too many whingers in London. And while the snipey grandstanding by Nine’s Tony Jones last night was an example of a nasty tone set by the media which has been off the mark, the worst Aussie whinging has come from the Oi! Oi! Oi! thought police both in the stands and on the fields of competition who consider it a crime to ask the tough questions.
Ask yourself this: Sally Pearson gave a quote to the effect that she came to London for one reason, which was to win gold. If she hadn’t won, would it have been fair to ask if she was disappointed?
Whinge at me on Twitter: @antsharwood
Anyway, enough of all this. By popular demand, here’s another chicken pic. Today’s bird is quite appropriately drinking a cup of English Breakfast tea.
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