Olympic failure

Among the positives of the Olympics so far is that Ethiopia is beating Australia in the medal count. In the medal count that matters, I mean, the gold, two to our one. And I am delighted that South Africa is even further ahead of us, with three gold, and that we’re rubbing shoulders with Kenya and Venezuela. I’d be even more delighted if we had a zero in the Gold column, teaming us with such as Mongolia and Uzbekistan and Armenia.

Not that I wish anything other than success for our gold medallists, the women who won the 100 metre relay – it is that I wish that success at the Olympics were based on something other than medals.

The London Olympics are the Olympics we had to have.

We have seen the psychological impact on our athletes of our ridiculous expectations, and we have robbed them of the accomplishment of winning a silver or bronze medal, and for those who fail to medal, to use the commentators' term I detest, we have a condemning silence. We have denied them the achievement of being a part of the Olympics.

Instead of excitement in competing, there seems to be dread of falling short of gold, and the irony may be that our demands have done more than anything else to ensure that they’re not met. The response of some of our silver medallists does suggest that we’ve come to see the silver medallist as first of the losers, and the sobbing of backstroker Emily Seebohm was simply the most graphic demonstration of this.

Disappointment is one thing, anguish is another.

Then we had the cringeworthy hubris of James Magnussen, who, among other outrageously reckless predictions, warned his competitors in the pool to brace themselves. Given his humility later, when he had been humbled, it does seem that he’d been overwhelmed by the hype. We may have contributed to this brashness but we offer no sympathy.

Magnussen was reflecting the national arrogance. Our chief swimming coach, Leigh Nugent, predicted Australia would finish just behind the United States in the pool medal tally and well clear of other nations, and our Olympics chief, John Coates, is talking failure when he blames a lack of government money.

With our Olympic leaders setting out extraordinarily ambitious requirements for success before the games, and pointing the finger of failure midway through, with commentators talking incessantly of gold, with interviewers pushing the expectation of gold at every opportunity, it is inevitable that our athletes see themselves as having failed to deliver.

And if Australia is disappointed with silver, how do we see the participation of nations whose athletes have no chance of a gold medal? Without these other nations there would be no race, no contest, no Olympics, yet our national attitude relegates them to the role of fillers, to non-competitors making up the numbers.

Mr Coates defined medal-count performance, and therefore the Olympics for the affluent nations, when he blamed money for what is seen as Australia’s failure. And so entrenched is this attitude, that money fuels sporting achievement fuels national triumph, we can’t see that in the games for all the world’s nations this is offensive.

In fact, I don’t think we, and other medal-counting countries, even acknowledge participating nations outside the top five or top 10, those we see as medal-count contestants. The Olympics for us has become a contest in nationalism and we’ve become blind to the rest of it.

And so it is timely that one of the world’s poorest nations, Ethiopia, listed by the International Monetary Fund as having the world’s fifth lowest gross domestic product per capita, has double the gold medals of the nation listed by the IMF as having the sixth highest GDP per capita, Australia. Ethiopia two gold Australia one, Ethiopia $US360 GDP Australia $US65,477.

Well, that was the gold count late yesterday, and I won’t be disappointed if it stays that way.

Do medals define success at your Olympics? Should Australia increase or reduce its Olympics training budget?

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