The Olympic Games are past the half way point now. It’s been a different Olympics in many ways, the most obvious of these being the slide down the medal tally of the Australian team.
We have become accustomed to high levels of gold medals being delivered by the Athletes in green and gold in the past twenty years. This was largely driven by increased funding to Olympic sports in the lead up to Sydney 2000. The hosts generally have their best medal hauls and we were no exception, as Great Britain is experiencing now.
A golden era in a number of sports such as swimming, cycling, rowing, hockey, shooting and equestrian sure helped in addition to the emergence of other stars such as Cathy Freeman, Steve Hooker and Matthew Mitcham.
London 2012 has not, to date, lived up to those expectations. Events where we assumed we would win gold have not produced the desired outcome. This has to be an outcome of reduced funding post Sydney, but also of an age in which sportsman tend to get publicity well before they have proved themselves due to our thirst for new heroes.
We have been spoilt in the past twenty years to the point where a silver medal is seen by some as a failure. While it’s been frustrating to see so many silver medals being won and would have been nice to see a few of them converted to gold, especially as we have been beaten by our great rivals Great Britain. It hurts to lose to them and we have become increasingly used to that happening in recent years.
Swimmer James Magnussen is a case in point. “The Missile” was branded a certain gold medallist by the media after victory in the world championships. We all know that while winning a world championship is great, the Olympics are the pinnacle.
He got a rude awakening in his first Olympic event that you can’t just dominate at such an event. This clearly affected him for the rest of the meet and seemed to reflect the fortunes of the whole swimming team. Was he underprepared? Did he think he only needed to turn up to win? Only he knows.
Success can come and go in cycles and we are definitely at the lower end of the cycle. It seems to turn every twenty years or so, the 1950’s and 60’s were golden for Australia, while the 70’s and 80’s were relatively lean.
With the success of the last twenty years, are we about to experience another turn in the cycle? It would appear so. In this day and age of inactivity, sports and fitness are often left behind in favour of the internet and computer games. This was confirmed during the opening ceremony where the founder of the internet was celebrated.
This trough is not just being experienced in the Olympics. After years of success our cricket team is not the force it was once was and is going through a difficult generational change. Likewise the Wallabies are not up to the standard of the All Blacks and Springboks and the Kangaroos lost the last Rugby League World Cup to the Kiwi’s.
There have been many successes to celebrate along the way. The silver to Jess Fox at eighteen years old in the Canoe slalom was a great achievement for one so young. The gold won just yesterday in the sailing by Tom Slingsby was the first win for Australia in that event for sixty four years.
There is still more to come. Gold in the sailing is still all but assured, while Sally Pearson, Steve Hooker, Matthew Mitcham the Opals are all good chances to come. For the dreamers there are also the Boomers who play the USA in a quarter final.
Let’s wait until it’s all over to make a complete judgement on these games, we might be surprised just where we end up. Then the focus can turn to the Paralympics, where the athletes have to overcome much much more just to get there.
As long as we finish ahead of New Zealand, all will be fine.