At last, a champion we can wrap the flag around
Ingredients for a dinky di, you beaut, true blue Aussie Olympic champion:
A dash of humility, a tough back story, a generous dollop of sunscreen on the lips, a flag around the shoulders and a victory celebration where everybody gets their clothes wet.
Sailor Tom Slingsby delivered all that in the waters off Weymouth overnight, winning Australia’s second gold of the London Olympics and edging us ever closer on the medal tally to Kazakhstan, Belarus and New Zealand.
The one ingredient missing from the perfect recipe for an outbreak of Oi! Oi! Oi! was an event with action we could all follow. That is in no way a criticism of the 27 year old from the NSW Central coast. It is merely to state that sailing is a tough sport for spectators to follow, whether they’re slumped on the couch or perched precariously on the rock wall of a bleak British port town.
All the same, while we couldn’t follow Slingsby race by race in the laser class, and most of us don’t really understand what makes him a better sailor than the rest of the field, his pedigree is beyond doubt. He came to these Games as a strong favourite. Unlike many Australian Olympians in the same boat, he has delivered.
Slingsby went to Beijing as world champion, but finished 22nd in the regatta off Qingdao, in waters as murky as the beer for which the city is famous. He again dominated the world after Beijing, even though as he explained overnight, he almost packed it in.
“It’s a huge sense of relief. To go to China and come away with nothing was such a hard feeling. I didn’t know whether to do it again. In hindsight, I’m glad I did…
“Before China, I’d won World Championships and World Cups and done everything… I thought ‘why wait another four years to do this and possibly come away with nothing?’ But I wanted to chase the Olympic dream, now I can go home and relax on the Central Coast.
“It’s just been such a long journey with so many highs and low, the low of China coming away with nothing, the high today. I’m the happiest guy in the world right now.”
Australian sports fans will be a little happier this morning too, and should be even more pleased tomorrow when sailors Nathan Outteridge and Ian Jensen win an almost certain gold in the 49ers, followed, we hope, we pray, by a Sally Pearson hurdles triumph.
One thing remains certain. Whatever happens in the final week of the games – and we still have strong gold medal chances to come in events like the BMX – these Olympics will be classed as an Australian failure. All kinds of performance reviews will follow, and we can only hope a serious public debate on Olympic funding ensues.
Well might Australians ask why there are 700 athletes on AIS scholarships at any given moment.
But for all our collective obsession with our position on the medal tally, these Games are teaching us a lesson we’d do well to heed. In short, it’s about enjoying the moment rather than the overall result. These games are delivering not a rich seam of gold but tiny nuggets. We should learn to value those too.
Tiny triumphant moments have passed unheralded. Not enough was made of basketballer Belinda Snell’s unbelievable shot from her own half on the buzzer against France, possibly because that shot only tied the match and we then lost in overtime.
That incredible Patty Mills buzzer-beater for the Boomers against Russia overnight should be getting more airtime too. Mills actually said “that’s gold, that’s what we play for”. Not every bit of gold is on the outside of a medal.
For all that, today belongs to Tom Slingsby, a good bloke and an outstanding sailor. As our first individual gold medallist of these games, his timing is excellent. Not only has he has taken sailing from about page 25 of the sports section to the front page of the paper, he has made sailing marketable. Two Australian crews won gold in Beijing. Care to name them? Chances are you can’t, as they were lost among our other 12 gold medallists.
Tom Slingsby will be one of the names we all remember from London, and if he now snares a Weet-Bix contract at the expense of one of our overhyped swimmers, all the better.
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