Sometimes a gold medal is only a gold medal.

Not celebrating over their medal tally

That may hard for some people to believe, particularly in the media, but the fact is that the Olympic medal tally is not a fool-proof barometer of the state of Australia.

Yes, some of our swimmers went slower than they had hoped, and some of our sailors went faster. This is not proof that we “punch above our weight” in anything except sport – or that we are victim of declining standards or a growing “sense of entitlement”, or whatever other claims people want to make.

If a country’s success could be judged by its medal tally, then East Germany, with 37 gold medals at the 1988 Olympics from a population similar to Australia’s, must have been one of the most successful societies on earth. Instead the repressive East German regime fell apart the following year and was absorbed by democratic West Germany (who had won a disappointing 11 gold medals).

The idea that Australia’s sense of nationhood depends on our medal tally is only pushed by people trying to sell newspapers or who have an axe to grind.

Despite the hype they’re not “our” medals. They belong to the people who worked hard to win them, and the families, friends, coaches and sporting clubs who supported them.

I’m not an Olympics-hater. Far from it, but I wanted to try and deflate some of the hype before talking about what I like about the Games.

The Olympics are like a holiday for the world. They show us what both the human body and the human spirit are capable of achieving. You don’t have to be a sports nut to appreciate what athletes spend years training themselves to do and the sacrifices they have to make.

The Olympics are a chance for us to see what the rest of the world looks like, and remind us that the expressions of joy in victory and sadness in defeat are the same the world over. Young, dedicated athletes are the best ambassadors that countries can have.

At the risk of reading too much into the medal tally, I’ll make the observation that direct government investment in sport -whether in China, the UK or Australia -  has led to success. Maybe a lesson for the IPA and others who criticise assistance to our car industry?

One of the best things about the Olympics in my view is the emphasis on women’s sport. In fact there’s probably more women’s sport on commercial television during the Olympics than during the previous four years.

To see women’s sport given the credit and attention it deserves is extremely heartening for anyone who believes in equality.

Seeing female athletes from Saudi Arabia compete for the first time sends a strong message to women in that country.

To see women such as Sally Pearson, who are famous for their achievements rather than just their looks, presented as role models for young girls can only be healthy. Australia’s female Olympians have always won a disproportionately high number of medals, which may be the case again this Olympics.

Four-time swimming gold medallist Dawn Fraser said that:

Women in this country have always been a lot more gutsy than the men. Women have been the hardest working segment of a nation that had to work its way up from colonial status. They worked longer hours and they worked harder than the men. My Dad worked hard, but after work he relaxed at the pub and at home. Mum could rarely rest. She was always working. I think the ability of women to endure explains a lot of our Olympic success.

That’s Dawn’s opinion, I couldn’t possibly comment.
Despite my appreciation for the Games, it’s time to put them back into perspective. London has done a great job in hosting the Games, but like any host it will be left to clean up when the party is over.

Britain will still need to deal with its stagnant economy and the effects of an austerity program that is straining community cohesion. London will still be grappling with the inequalities and the social dysfunction that fuelled last year’s riots. Unlike in ancient Greece, the civil war in Syria continued throughout the games.

In Australia we will also go back to dealing with the problems we faced before the games started.

My impression is that while Australians have been enjoying the Olympics, there has been less focus on the medal tally than in the past. Polling by Essential Media shows that 58 per cent of Australians are taking some interest in the games, but that only 20 per cent of them are feeling unsatisfied by our performance.

Perhaps we’re aware that Australia’s economy is doing better than the rest of the developed world and we have escaped the massive unemployment of Europe and the USA?

Maybe there’s a recognition that we are secure in our national identity, and that we do not have as much of a cultural cringe as in the past. At a time when Australian actors, scientists and thinkers are succeeding on the world stage, sport becomes less important in building our national self-confidence.

Perhaps we have managed to put sport into its proper perspective, as one of the nice luxuries of life rather than the essentials.

Or maybe we’re just happy to be beating New Zealand.

Most commented


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    • ronny jonny says:

      06:24am | 13/08/12

      If the Olympics were run by the likes of Ged, there would be no scores kept and everyone would get a medal. Men and women would compete in the same events but the men would have to let the women win so as not to hurt anyones feelings. Rather than prizes going to whoever came first a commitee would decide who actually won when the event is interpreted through the prism of Marxist ideology. The Socialist Olympics, what a fantastic spectacle that would be.

    • Tubesteak says:

      08:04am | 13/08/12

      haha nice one. Gave me a chuckle.

      I think the women would be given a head start and a quota of female Olympians who were allowed to win.

    • Al says:

      08:41am | 13/08/12

      Tubesteak - just one minor correction:
      ‘I think the women would be given a head start and a quota of female Olympians who were required (as opposed to allowed) to win.’

    • scubasteve says:

      08:49am | 13/08/12

      Sport’persons’ would have to be paid penalties and allowances for being made to perform outside their normal work hours.
      And the right to strike 1 minute before the gold medal final would be enshrined in the olympic constitution.
      scabs would be lynched at the closing ceremony.

    • Bitten says:

      09:38am | 13/08/12

      Yes, ranking people by performance results and rewarding them accordingly? We can’t have that boys, it’s anti-union and un-Australian!

    • Phil S says:

      10:42am | 13/08/12

      I really hope you are having a laugh…

      Because if you are serious, you sound utterly ridiculous. Just saying…

    • M says:

      11:07am | 13/08/12

      Totes serious Phil. This is the age of acceptance and diversity, and no one should be allowed to raise their head above the parapet and say they’re better than everyone else. That would devalue the participation certificates that everyone gets.

    • ronny jonny says:

      11:09am | 13/08/12

      @Phil S, what do you mean? I think it would be great. You could have a running race where all the competitors have to finish at exactly the same time, if you are over the line first you are given no medal and last gets the same gold medal as the rest of the field.
      The IOC would go broke because of all the gold medals they’d have to give out but that’s ok, they could just borrow some money to pay for them and put a levy on the competitors to repay the borrowings.

    • I hate pies says:

      12:19pm | 13/08/12

      And the Olympic bosses could use the members money on largesse and throw it around like confetti…oh

    • abdye says:

      01:06pm | 13/08/12

      @ronny jonny - I love how you guys are arguing against an imaginary foe. There isnt any crazy leftists spouting those stupid ideas but it doesnt stop you whining about it like they are.

    • ronny jonny says:

      02:39pm | 13/08/12

      ... and here’s abdye, confirming yet again that those on the left have no sense of humour.

    • mike says:

      09:44am | 14/08/12

      Haha good one ronny jonny. All could cross the line in the 100m holding hands and in national dress showing appropriate respect for other cultures. 

      No sponsorship would be allowed and everything would be free because mining magnates would be forced to pay for the whole shebang.

      Poor, Ged doesn’t know that Shane Gould, Dawn Fraser, Betty Cuthbert were Australias true sporting heroes of the past. In the 60’s and 70’s people were not all about commenting on their looks. Yet another Lefty myth.

      BTW What is this article about????

    • Timinane says:

      06:29am | 13/08/12

      As long as we beat New Zealand and this is our worst performance since the D Generation. but by no means our worst where there was an Olympics where we won no medals in or the one Bronze we won in Berlin, 1936.

      But given today’s world the swimmers are probably going to have to go on the dole or get a day job as the sponsership money dries up, you only get you’re name on milk when you are winning.

      Though I paid no attention because I could be bothered watching after the cycling and that was just an add on from that yearly cycling feast where we’ve suddenly cared about the tour de France because of Cadel Evans.

      Football season starts soon and I need to find a new name to shout other than Cahill when my team scores because I forget who else is in the club.

    • Lucky says:

      09:42am | 13/08/12

      it’s round 20 of football season, where’ve you been? Oh you mean soccer - the game mummies let their boys play until they grow up and get interested in real sport?

    • unlucky says:

      11:15am | 13/08/12

      No Lucky, I’m pretty sure Timinane means football. You know it? It’s that game played with feet. Hence, football. The biggest game in the world? Played in all 196 countries? The biggest sporting league ever, the EPL? No? Ok, go back to supporting your pithy little Rugby League club that will only be shown to an extremely limited amount of people, in a country no one outside it cares about.

      And yes, I am Australian.

    • I hate pies says:

      12:26pm | 13/08/12

      Lucky, look’s like he’s actually talking about soccer - you know, the girls game OTHER countries call football. You know that English game they call the “world game”.

    • Admiral Ackbar says:

      12:53pm | 13/08/12

      I always get a chuckle from AFL fanboys who think that shit is a sport and even compares to real football. Over 100 years and still no other country gives a crap.

    • mike says:

      09:52am | 14/08/12

      Rugby League, the game for people who think that getting brain damage is a sign of being ‘tough’’

    • M says:

      06:38am | 13/08/12

      Ooh rah sisterhood.

    • Little Joe says:

      07:00am | 13/08/12

      Now if Ged is now looking at a new career as a Sports Journalist, now that Labor has destroyed the manufacturing sector and her $20/week leach fund, she had better do a little bit more research

      “Seeing female athletes from Saudi Arabia compete for the first time sends a strong message to women in that country.”

      OK Ged .....

      1. Saudi Arabia sent two women representatives
          - Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani in judo
          - Sarah Attar in 800m
          While most of us saw Sarah, I doubt that many, including yourself witnessed Shahrkhani’s judo 82 second performance .... which should have been considered brilliant as she is only 16yo.

      2. Sarah Attar was born in and resides in USA .... she has Saudi Arabian Father and I doubt that she runs in the same ‘uniform’ when training at Pepperdine University.

      3. Islamic clerics said Shahrkhani dishonored herself by competing in front of men. They were labelled “Prostitutes of the Olympics”

      4. The only reason they were allowed to compete was because Saudi Arabia faced a total ban for not allowing women to compete ..... which would have meant that the Royal Equestrian Team would not be able to compete.

      A lot of fuss ...... meanwhile women cannot vote in Saudi Arabia, most women cannot practice sport in Saudi Arabia and there are international travel restrictions on women.

    • Skye says:

      10:24pm | 13/08/12

      Well said and time people knew the truth.  Nothing admirable in Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women and still a country that sees women as less then horses and maybe just above dogs.

    • Mike Hunt says:

      07:01am | 13/08/12

      The left hate anything that celebrates success or achievement

    • nihonin says:

      07:30am | 13/08/12

      The current Labor government are the Eddie the Eagles of the political sphere and deserve Gold for it, with the Greens getting Silver and the Independents taking out the Bronze

    • ronny jonny says:

      08:50am | 13/08/12

      Or is Gillard a Bradbury, leading because everyone else has fallen over? Or doesn’t want to compete?
      No disrespect to Mr Bradbury, I reckon he is a legend.

    • eRon says:

      07:30am | 13/08/12

      What’s this piece actually about, other than to give some politically benign publicity to a union leader, waving a teensy-weensy flag for the eeeeconamoi?
      Oh, and East Germany were routinely pumping their athletes with steroids, in a program that was only ever about boosting the wider public perception of ‘success’ within the failing communist regime. How that relates to the current situation is a mystery to me.

    • darren says:

      07:40am | 13/08/12

      The East Germans also ran a State funded and enforced doping program. A program that caused a great deal of harm to its athletes.

      I notice you left this out.

    • thatmosis says:

      07:43am | 13/08/12

      “Despite the hype they’re not “our” medals”. Bullshit, we all paid dearly for these medals and we wanted value for money which we didn’t get, some $38m for the swimming team. Its time a stop was put to wasting good tax payer money on these chosen few and let the sponsors who make the millions out of the games pay for them instead.
        How much tax payers money was spent over the four years on these elite few and their hangers on and add to that the money spent bidding for the games as well, its outrageous and should be nipped in the bud.
      I wonder how many people didn’t take any notice whatsoever of the games in that survey or where those answers simply shoved under the table.

    • FINK says:

      08:11am | 13/08/12

      “Bullshit, we all paid dearly for these medals and we wanted value for money which we didn’t get, some $38m for the swimming team”

      As opposed to spending over a Billion dollars on a war we cannot win in some desolate country called Afghanistan? We have paid dearly for this war which will provide no value for money to us or anyone else. Nope take my one dollar a year for 4 years and give me that feel good feeling of watching a Sally Pearson or even other countries athletes such a Bolt or Ennis I get my value for money in the excitement of barracking for our athletes against the best in the world whether we win, lose or draw.

      “How much tax payers money was spent over the four years on these elite few and their hangers on”

      Less than the cumulative politicians pensions! and trust me our athletes performances (no matter how poor) we far better than the current crop of politicians.

    • M says:

      08:29am | 13/08/12

      How many dollars have been wasted by Gillard & Co just because they felt the need to meddle in what was a perfectly satisfactory border protection policy?

    • Tubesteak says:

      09:39am | 13/08/12

      I don’t think the money is to buy medals, but rather it is to send the best athlete we possibly can with the opportunity to compete and maybe win. Thus, it’s not about buying a medal but a chance to do their best and hopefully win. Emphasis on doing their best, not necessarily winning because maybe an athlete from another country is just more naturally gifted.

    • thatmosis says:

      12:12pm | 13/08/12

      Tubesteak that didn’t happen did it as can be seen by the results. The swimming team we sent was either not the best or believed their own publicity. Those that did well congratulations but the majority just seemed to be there for a fully paid holiday with the inconvenience of having to jump in a pool occasionally.
      As for FINK, cry me a river and M, every body knows that this almost Government would rather waste tax payers money than anything else so your statement is a given.

    • Admiral Ackbar says:

      12:59pm | 13/08/12

      Comparing money spent on sports people to that spent on fighting wars is a cop out. How do they even compare?

    • thatmosis says:

      03:53pm | 13/08/12

      They don’t Admiral Ackbar but we must let the more unfortunate have their little whinge mustn’t we. Its like saying Julia Gillard is a good PM ,laughable at any time.

    • Mahhrat says:

      07:45am | 13/08/12

      “That’s Dawn’s opinion, I couldn’t possibly comment.”

      Not without seriously pissing off every feminist within coo-ee, anyway.

    • M says:

      07:58am | 13/08/12

      Nah, I saw it as a way to include a She-Rah call out without implicitly supporting the sisterhood.

    • Mahhrat says:

      10:12am | 13/08/12

      As did I, but try saying anything regarding the comment that won’t come out wrong smile

    • gobsmack says:

      08:09am | 13/08/12


      When Australia gets a huge haul of gold at an Olympics it’s proof of the unique Aussie spirit and determination which allows us to punch above our weight in sport and everything else.

      When the haul is disappointing, the Olympics are just “games” or a “holiday for the world” and all is good.

    • Bazza says:

      08:39am | 13/08/12

      I am a Union supporter and I reckon if it is good enough for another bloke to get a gold medal we should all get one, if not we should go on strike.

    • eRon says:

      09:43am | 13/08/12

      And the paid holiday, Bazza.
      Don’t forget the holiday.

    • Bazza says:

      11:12am | 13/08/12

      @eron, ,,,,I forgot about the holiday so thanks for reminding me. Then I realised some of the games were played on Sat and Sun so we should all get double time as well.

    • Suzanne says:

      08:39am | 13/08/12

      East Germany, that is were our economy is headed thanks to ALP and Greens

    • Rose says:

      12:34pm | 13/08/12

      So obviously you haven’t paid attention, our economy is the envy of most of the world,and looks set to continue to be so.

    • Colin says:

      12:59pm | 13/08/12

      @ Rose says: 12:34pm | 13/08/12
      “So obviously you haven’t paid attention, our economy is the envy of most of the world…”

      Only for as long as we continue to rip stuff out of the ground and sell it on to the rest of the world. And when that’s gone - and because we no longer have a manufacturing industry or do anything else but sell services to each other in an ever-tightening monetary spiral - we will go the way of the dodo. Our “Great” economy is a SHAM.

    • andye says:

      01:08pm | 13/08/12

      @Suzanne - You people are so gullible. The actual facts are quite easily available, but don’t let it stop you moaning and griping because soemone keeps telling you everything is bad.

    • Craig says:

      08:43am | 13/08/12

      The parallel to East Germany will become clear next year when the US-backed Australian government falls following a series of non-violent protests against the Asylum Seeker Wall (the latest policy based on building 18ft walls around every Australian territory), and we are absorbed into the state of New Zealand (to be renamed Great Zealand).

      Just saying.

      Or was the author attempting to justify our quite decent, and still punching above our weight, ranking (about 50th in population, 10th in the medal tally) on the basis that she believes Australia’s athletes were doing less drugs then they were 12yrs ago?

    • dibatag says:

      09:00am | 13/08/12

      We sent 400 odd athletes to the games, far to many, but how come we send 319 officials just what the hell did they do except wast taxpayers money

    • Ryan says:

      10:58am | 13/08/12

      Not much. Except coach a team, umpire a game, judge a gymanstics routine, provide physio etc. etc. Nah - don’t need them.

    • John says:

      09:01am | 13/08/12

      East Germany was just a giant concentration camp. Leftists, Marxists are good at creating nation sized concentration camps. The left loves to oppress, control and take freedom from it’s captives.

    • iansand says:

      09:28am | 13/08/12

      If anyone had any doubt about the intellectual poverty of the “right” on this place the responses here would dispel it.

    • eRon says:

      09:52am | 13/08/12

      Ohhhh, ian.
      Channeling Philthy Adams again? Would you care to elaborate, or was that just the chronic pathological sanctimony talking?

    • Gordon says:

      11:14am | 13/08/12

      @eRon, seeing as how you completely missed the point of the E Germany mention in the main article I think you are in danger of proving Ian’s point not refuting it.  If you want to actually address some of the more questionable points written, then go ahead & I’ll probably agree with you, but please read the article and think for 10 seconds first hey?

    • eRon says:

      11:50am | 13/08/12

      I see your point, Gordon. Thank you.
      Looks like I have indeed missed the context of that passage from Ged.
      Putting the hat with the ‘D’ on it, and going to stand in the corner.
      Apologies to the author, and ian, who it turns out, today, has made the correct observation, when it comes to me, at least.

    • Gordon says:

      04:59pm | 13/08/12

      eRon awarded Gold medal for civil debate. I see there were no shortage of shoot-from-the-hipsters posting today so I reckon you can pass over that cap pretty quickly.

    • Blind Freddy says:

      09:48am | 13/08/12

      “Women in this country have always been a lot more gutsy than the men. Women have been the hardest working segment of a nation that had to work its way up from colonial status. They worked longer hours and they worked harder than the men. My Dad worked hard, but after work he relaxed at the pub and at home. Mum could rarely rest. She was always working. I think the ability of women to endure explains a lot of our Olympic success.”

      “That’s Dawn’s opinion, I couldn’t possibly comment.” - No, just post it in full to support your “argument”. LOL

      Women have done “disproportionately” well because women have more opportunities in Australia than women in most other countries. There is less global competition for pampered sportswomen than there is for sportsmen.

    • Brenda says:

      10:34am | 13/08/12

      Another bad day for unions.  Now we have a union expert in Olympic analysis. Is there anything, anything at all, that the union sister is not expert on, or doesn’t want to control?

    • Arnold Layne says:

      10:37am | 13/08/12

      The East Germans were doped to the eyeballs.  It’s a shame you couldn’t find a better comparison.

      One thing I do like about our Olympians is that we seem to bob up in just about every sport.  Sure we don’t win many of them but it’s cool that we participants in so many.  it show how diverse our opportunities are.

    • Colin says:

      11:19am | 13/08/12

      “I’m not an Olympics-hater. Far from it…”

      Well, I am. Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster that these ridiculous, knuckle-dragging “I can run faster/jump higher/throw further etc” antics are over for another four years.

      In the interim to the next ones, let’s all see if we can get them disbanded and spend the HUNDREDS of MILLION$ on doing good for the underprivileged of the world, instead of supplying circuses to the privileged…

    • Robert S McCormick says:

      11:47am | 13/08/12

      I couldn’t agree with you more, Colin.
      The entire process is elitists bullshit. I have a great-neice she has just been given a grant to help her further her “career” in Rowing from an organisation set up to financially help aspiring athletes, deemed to have good prospects. I don’t know about others but my idea about that is that that money should be provided to people who have Low Income parents & who would not have a hope of affording the equipment & training to enable them aspire to competing in the Olympics etc.
      This young woman has parentswho, by their own admission within the family, have an AFTER TAX income of almost $200,000.00 per year. They do not have a mortgage to pay off. Her grandfather is one of the richest men in, certainly, SA but though maybe not a billionaire - he may well be one for he is the meanest man on earth - would be will up in the Richest People Lists.
      Why did this young woman get a grant? As her parents are living their own failed ambitions (neither were ever any good at sport & nor were they in the least bit ‘Academic’) through their daughter.
      It seems to me that it is all a matter of: “Who you know, not What you know”

    • glenm says:

      02:07pm | 13/08/12

      Bit jealous eh Robert?

    • Colin says:

      02:55pm | 13/08/12

      @glenm : 02:07pm | 13/08/12
      “Bit jealous eh Robert?”

      Bit brainwashed hey Glen..?

    • Scott Johnson says:

      11:22am | 13/08/12

      e-Ron - yes, the paid holiday…..just ask Channel 9’s whole ‘family’ & quite a few lucky ones working @ 3AW. Were any members of the media back home to watch it on the telly with us?? Not even Andrew Demetriou was willing to stay back here during the footy season - as the incidents multiplied the Fuhrer was nowhere to be seen. Nothing was going to ruin his grand Olympian adventure. Or were they all @ the Last Lap Bar dancing with Frothies Brownless or being interviewed by a very refreshed Gary Lyon?

    • Robert S McCormick says:

      11:34am | 13/08/12

      Given the record of the old USSR & it’s sattelite state the GDR - East Germany - when it comes to the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs it is no wonder they won so many Gold Medals. It was this blatant dishonesty by the USSR, USA & others which have caused the entire concept of the Olympics to become degraded in the eyes of the public.
      You think they’ve not been degraded?
      Think again for every time any competitor, from any country, wins a Gold Medal, sets a new Olympic or World Record the knives come out & the questions are asked:
      “What new, as yet undetectable, drugs has he/she been taking”
      and where females are concerned:
      “Yes, she won, but is she reallly a female?”

    • undertow says:

      12:23pm | 13/08/12

      “At the risk of reading too much into the medal tally, I’ll make the observation that direct government investment in sport -whether in China, the UK or Australia -  has led to success. Maybe a lesson for the IPA and others who criticise assistance to our car industry?”

      While we might not necessarily have achieved our goals at this Olympics, we’ve invested in our athletes with the aim to produce excellent performance. Meanwhile, with the assistance we’ve been providing to the car industry, our aim seems to have been to maintain mediocre performance. We should be investing in excellence.

    • Pablo E says:

      02:34pm | 13/08/12

      Really? These responses tell me all I need to know about Punch readers. Fastened to their ideological wheelchairs and unable to move freely on any subject or opinion regardless of the strength of argument. Union bad, Labor bad, Tony good, money good. How dark are your caves?

    • ronny jonny says:

      02:53pm | 13/08/12

      Dear Pablo E, I think you’ll find that the right-leaning posters are enjoying the irony of Ged from the union movement commenting on an event that enshrines and celebrates competition, winning, losing,and the best rising to the top and being rewarded. You know, all the things the unions and socialism deem bad even though they are human nature and a force for dynamism and change in society. It’s hilarious.

    • stephen says:

      04:49pm | 13/08/12

      The new swimming enquiry may bring up the cost of sending our Athletes to Games overseas, and if the stalwarts of small thinking want to use the argument of utilizing public funds better, like, say, in medical research or building shelters for animals.
      They may have a point, (up to a point) but I’m surprized that wealthy individuals have not been asked, or even considered themselves, sponsoring a particular Athlete or even a whole team at the Olympics.

      If Governments are under pressure to justify their expenditure on public sport, then they can be privately run.

    • John T says:

      01:14am | 14/08/12

      The only thing the East Germans won gold for was for doping!
      Like all on the left they can only win by lying & cheating.

    • Will says:

      01:20pm | 14/08/12

      The cost of Australia’s elite athlete/olympic program is $310m over 4 years! That is $3.85 per person per year, or less than 1c a day. Hate to break it to you, but $300m is not going to fix world poverty. It is 0.1% of the government budget and 0.03 of australia’s total GDP. Hence in relative terms the sum is tiny.

    • oem software says:

      10:12am | 19/08/12

      JJEomT Im obliged for the article post.Much thanks again. Cool.


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