It’s beginning to look like these aren’t our games
One hundredth of a second. A fingernail. If only James Magnussen had painted his nails green and gold like the women, that extra coat of varnish might’ve got him home in the 100m freestyle.
Alas, he finished second. So let’s talk about the thing that’s becoming as blatantly obvious in London as the fact that Prince William doesn’t look much like Prince Harry. These Olympics are not going to be Australia’s games.
The Great Southern Land is heading south on the medal tally. After winning 16 gold medals in Sydney, 17 in Athens and 14 in Beijing, we look certain to fall back to our historical norm of somewhere between five and ten. James Magnussen was supposed to be one of our London bankers. Well, we all know how reliable London bankers have been of late.
That’s not to bag the 21 year old from Port Macquarie. He was absolutely magniffusent this morning, if you’ll excuse the spelling. The 100m is always a bit of a lottery. In longer races, you can compensate for a sloppy turn here, a stroke out of synch there. Not in the 100m. Magnussen led with 20 to go, but the American thrust out his big paw where it counted. And that was that.
Except that that wasn’t entirely that. Despite Grant Hackett saying he’d be a “shattered man” and Giaan Rooney repeating that word in her poolside interview, big James looked anything but shattered. In fact, Magnussen came across as a bloke who’d put in some long hard thought and decided that he didn’t want to be a surly grump, but a man as large of character as he is around the shoulders.
In his presser after the disastrous 4x100m freestyle relay, Magnussen barely looked at the camera. It was like he wasn’t there. In retrospect, his brain was a computer rebooting. Error message 404. Go away and try again later.
He rebooted, all right. He said he’d learned more about himself in two days than in 20 years, and what he no doubt learned was that “the Olympics are something else again”, as he said this morning. And he learned something more. He learned that it’s one thing to be confident, another entirely to be cocky.
In defeat, Magnussen was magnanimous. Try saying that with a mouthful of muesli.
Two days ago, this column focused on silver medals worth celebrating. That’s obviously easy to do when you come from nowhere as Australian rowers Kate Hornsey and Sarah Tait did last night, harder to do when your’re pipped at the post. But Magnussen swam a good race. He should feel immensely satisfied with his silver medal.
All the same, the vibe isn’t great for the Aussies in London at the moment.
We still have several athletes who will win and win handsomely if they perform anywhere near their best. Include on that list the likes of hurdler Sally Pearson, hockey’s Kookaburras, sailor Tom Slingsby, a rower or two, one or two track cyclists and possibly even Melanie Schlanger in the women’s 100m freestyle tomorrow .
But the random medals that seem to drop from the sky in sports we barely notice like shooting just aren’t heading our way. And the swimming medals are all the wrong colour.
Here’s a stat for you. When we get to Rio 2016, it will have been 16 years since a male Australian swimmer who wasn’t called Thorpe or Hackett won an individual Olympic swimming gold medal.
But you know what? None of this is a disaster. For one thing, it might call into question our seemingly bottomless Olympic funding pool – and hopefully diminish the public’s enthusiasm for it rather than spurring a call for more, more, more.
And you know what else? For us mad sports fans, these Olympics are suddenly becoming a whole lot less stressful. It’s like when your team can no longer make the football finals. You’re not longer looking over your shoulder, sweating over every minute.
Instead, you just sit back and enjoy the action, win, lose or tank. That’s probably a state of mind more in tune with Olympic ideals anyway.
And now, back by popular demand, here is today’s desk chicken shot.
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