August 06, 2012

Horse 1343 - I Dismiss "Failure"
"I think sometimes we just need a can of 'harden up' and be told the hard truth, which is you're not doing enough, your attitude sucks, you're not going in with the right mindset, you're spending too much time on Twitter and social media up late at night when you should be asleep,"
- Former Olympic swimmer Lisa Curry, on ABC Local Radio 04/08/12

Lisa Curry has supposedly said with these words what the nation was thinking, or rather what the nation has been told that that's what it should be thinking. Words like "humiliation" and "failure" have been flying around the press at the moment and that's normal in the realm of sport: that in the heat of the moment whilst you're still riding the wave of disappointment to bring out the knives and commit emotional seppuku. Yet the what's almost never pondered except in the sport of football, is the more obvious and logical suggestion that other teams are simply better.

The inverse of the maxim "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" is also true - "For where your heart is, there your treasure will be also". I use the word "Treasure" in this sense in an almost entirely monetary fashion but again it also holds in an emotive sense too.
The blunt fact is that Australia's "Treasure", that is, where it mainly puts its money and emotional effort is into Australian Rules and Rugby League Football. These two sports command the lion's share of Australia's monetary "Treasure"; curiously coming third is V8 Supercar racing. There are no Olympic gold medals for these sports.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that essentially Australia is a one-trick pony. Apart from swimming and occasionally the odd medal that appears in something like shooting or cycling, even if people are Olympic athletes and have trained their whole lives, Australia doesn't really throw much treasure to Olympians in comparison. The AIS biggest financial concerns are in swimming by quite a long way, with a bit of token cash given to diving, track and field, rowing and cycling. It has recently dropped its payments for weightlifting, water polo (men), volleyball (women), wrestling, shooting, archery, boxing and golf. Closely related to this is an interesting phenomenon, which requires a bit of unpacking.

The most common ages for a breed of new Olympians to come onto the scene is bewtween 17-24. The thing is though that these people are not bred in isolation. You have to look into the conditions which inspired these people to decide to dedicate their lives to becoming an Olympic athlete in the first place.
The single biggest spike to inspire children to become an Olympic athlete is the announcement that the Olympic Games will be held in their country; this happens 7 years out from an Olympics. 10-17 year olds will in that magical 17-24 age group by the time that the games come. The host nation which obviously wants to put on a good show invariably spends a lot of money in that interim. Curiously, there is a spike in the number of medals won for a nation, not at their home Olympic Games but at the next one; this is true for every Olympics post-1948 with the exception of  the LA Games of 1984 when the Soviet Union boycotted them.
The nation most likely to do comparatively well at the 2012 games should be the nation who hosted the 2008 games; since Beijing hosted the 2008 games then we should expect to see China do rather well in London (lo and behold, they are). The thing is that there is only one Olympic gold medal for any given event; so where China has taken medals, nations like Australia will invariably miss out. That's pretty well what we've seen at the London games thus far; doubly so because Britain as the host nation is also "pinching" medals from Australia too.

So where the media likes to write this off as a "national humiliation" (Sydney Morning Herald), or an "epic failure" (Daily Telegraph) or even a "disappointment" (The Age), I think to do so is to ignore fact. A "national humiliation" in my eyes would be if someone was found to be cheating through drug use or otherwise, an "epic failure" would be if someone had given up and a "disappointment" would be if someone had deliberately gone out to lose.

If you really want to look at sporting failure, then the England football team which has failed to win any tournament in 46 years or Liverpool who hasn't won the League in 22 years are stand out examples. In the case of Australian sport, the 1976 MontrĂ©al yielded no golds, one silver and four bronzes. That's probably as close to a case of  sporting "failure" as you're going to get and it prompted the creation of the AIS in the first place in 1980.

Of course our Olympic athletes are disappointed; they would be if they'd spent most of their lives training and working away not to be rewarded. They already feel the pain of loss; they do not need the media jumping all over them just to sell copy.

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