August 3, 2012

Playing to win...

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How do you define success at this Olympics?


Is it primarily by the colour of the medal? Is it by the journey made to make the Olympics in the first place? Is it by the way athletes conduct themselves with the media, post-event? Or is it all of those things?


In this country, we live and breathe sport on a daily basis even when the Olympics aren't on. Every weekend sees local TV channels absolutely chock full of sport to choose from, from rugby union to horse racing to golf to V8 Supercars. We are known for embracing the challenge of competition and if there's a bit of sporting rivalry involved, well, so much the better! Bring it on!


But are we, as Australians, guilty of unrealistic expectations of our athletes? Is there too much pressure from the public to accept nothing less than a win? These Games have been notable in Australia for the distinct lack of gold medals hanging in the cabinet. Our swim team, especially, haven't performed anywhere near as prophesied. And as such, we've seen silver medalists breaking down because they hadn't won their events, feeling like they'd let down their country, their parents and/or themselves.


So what's the problem? I listened to a bloke on the radio this morning talking about this very thing. Our swimmers, he said, were not performing as well because they'd been allowed by swimming officials to talk themselves up on social media and in the press, creating this huge public perception that we'd pull in a swag of gold in the pool. He went on further to say that the public had lapped it up and as a consequence, the swimmers got caught up in all the hype and made the mistake of believing all their own publicity. And today I read that former Australian Olympic champion Susie O'Neill has waded (sorry!) into the discussion by suggesting that the work ethic in Australian swimming isn't the same as it was ten years ago. 'Talent gets you this far in an Olympics, work ethic gets you over the line.' 


She may have a point, to a degree. Ten years ago athletes didn't have Twitter and Facebook and all those sorts of distractions. You'd think there was enough pressure from the public to deal with, without putting more on yourself by constant social media interaction.


But is that really the reason? And do we need one? Perhaps it's because someone else was better on the night. And instead of looking for excuses why we didn't come first, maybe we should be more focussed on where we HAVE come. And saying congratulations, that's freaking awesome, well done, mate.


I want to see more of that - a celebration of an athlete's achievements in just MAKING the Games (and Channel 9, for the love of God - tell your presenters less talk is MORE and a wider range of nations in the coverage would be nice too, thanks) Just being good enough in your field to qualify makes you pretty awesome in my world. How many people do you know that are former or current Olympic athletes? I personally don't know any. The closest I've ever come to Olympic greatness was seeing the Olympic torch for all of three seconds as it was carried past me before the start of the Sydney 2000 Games.


What do YOU think? How is your country going at these Olympics? And are your commentators as banal and annoying as the ones in Australia are? OMG. It's sheer torture listening to them. Seriously, I've wanted to throw things at the telly. 

5 comments:

  1. I think this is interesting. There is no way of spinning it, we haven't done as well as in the past, for goodness sake we can't even beat New Zealand :) However, I am getting tired of commentators and athletes acting like a silver or bronze medal in the OLYMPIC GAMES isn't worth the trouble! At first I thought the reaction from the athletes was a Gen Y thing, they seriously never contemplated they would get anything beyond gold and were shocked by silver or bronze. But there have been tweets that there hasn't been an Olympic team sport psychologist since 2009. We may need to rethink that after this games. Could be handy for them to have someone talk them through the emotions of the world's biggest sporting event. There is so much pressure on the athletes - they have to perform well at their sport - then they need to be ready to face the media and speak eloquently just minutes after their event - they have to deal with instant and constant criticism etc on social media. It's a different world now and I think this games is probably highlighting the huge changes we have experienced in the past ten years.

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    1. I was surprised about the lack of a sports psychologist too - I'd be betting they might look into that now. I agree that there is a lot of pressure and expectation placed on our athletes and I do appreciate that they've sacrificed 4 years training for this event, so to not achieve that goal of gold must be pretty devastating. But. And here's the thing - I've seen medal winners from other countries react so much differently - they are so STOKED to have won a silver or bronze and literally radiate pride. This seems in rather stark contrast to Australia's silver & bronze medallists. Just my two cents.

      You make a good point that social media has changed things. I think it has impacted sport a lot more than perhaps we have otherwise realised - and I've already seen reports that some coaches are saying that athletes need to abstain totally if they want to see results. Makes for interesting stuff.

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  2. I might have an unpopular opinion on this. Well, opinion is probably too strong a word. They are some vague thoughts. Olympic athletes can't be compared to average Australians. They are elite, and with that comes very high expectations. The government (and therefore taxpayers) pump a lot of money into their development, and the return is in the medals and reflected glory. Remember how Australia reacted to their cricket team over the past few years, and their continued losing streak? Inquiries were held, selectors were sacked, it was front page news, and no one said "Don't worry Australian cricketers, you're still doing pretty well to be playing in international competition. Good on you for just getting there." James Magnussen said it best when he said he had a new respect for consistent performers like Michael Phelps - it was like by losing he understood what it takes to win. But he clearly wasn't prepared for a potential loss and I think that's a really interesting point about the team psychologist - unbelievable, really.

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    1. I wouldn't say your thoughts are unpopular, Rach! LOL. And you've made a good point. Athletes and sport in Australia are big business and to not reach the expected gold tally, serious questions will be asked by those controlling the purse strings. But hopefully much needed lessons will be learned - certainly James Magnussen has said he's discovered more about himself in the past week than he has over the last 20 years. With any luck, those lessons will bring him to Rio a much better prepared athlete.

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    2. Ha ha! I guess I mean unpopular amongst bloggers, not the media :)

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