Australia’s Olympic performance is exactly where it should be

I couldn’t muster the energy to whack away at the keyboard through the Olympic period. Initially, this was due to frantically cramming 12 to 14 hours of action into three or four when I came home from work. Thank God for the IQ box.
Subsequently, I became increasingly frustrated at the host broadcaster’s poor coverage and the insulting Australian-centric focus taken by Channel Seven.
This is a by-product of the growing trend that sees the Australian sporting media not actually covering events in their entirety, instead, jumping on board with the ‘flavour of the day’ Aussie at the expense of the event itself.
Showing an Australian take one dive off the ten-metre platform in isolation, or completing a show jumping round at the Equestrian centre and then proceeding to tell us that they currently sit in fourteenth place. That’s not covering the event.
Immediately leaving the event to watch another Aussie competing elsewhere is an insult to sporting and Olympic purists.
I continually saw Australians compete in heats, qualification stages and playoffs for minor positions when more competitive and important contests, from a medal perspective, were taking place elsewhere.
While this has always been a feature of Australia’s Olympic coverage, Seven took things to a new level this time around.
In their defence, they may be merely reacting to the demands of the Australian sporting public, who are ever increasingly latching on to athletes and elevating them to an underserved status, in turn, creating enormous pressure and expectation.
Magazine segments on television that highlight the personal sides of athletes through interviews with family members and coaches seem to over invest the viewing public in that person’s performance.
The performance itself has ceased to be the central focus in modern sport. More important, it seems, are the people around the athlete, the families, the struggles and if twins, sisters or an unusual back story can be found, the media go into a frenzy.
While these stories are points of interest, they shouldn’t be used to create hysteria and a level of expectation that results in considerable disappointment if not met.
Post-event interviews with disappointed athletes and constant commentary that, despite the loss, they had ‘not let Australia down,’ were noticeable, particularly in the pool.
Nathan Templeton seemed intent on assuring each Australian that it was okay they had failed in their quest to stand on the dais; as though we as a nation had forgiven them for their shortcomings.
It was painful, unnecessary and a testament to the intense and unfair focus placed on athletes prior to and during the games.
While there will be some indelible moments that will live in the memory for many years to come, my broader perspective on these games will be the hyper pressurised environment created for Australian athletes, fuelled by media and public expectation that, quite frankly, exceeded the realities of ability.
To see Australian athletes succeed is wonderful. Chloe Esposito’s performance in the Modern Pentathlon was a beautiful moment, as was the event itself, which was some of the most gripping footage from the games.
Jared Tallent is infectiously likeable and Kim Brennan stole the show with probably our best and most popular performance.
The goosebumps stood up on the back of my neck watching these moments and others, yet for every inspiring Aussie, there was an example of completely biased and misleading commentary, that presented an unreliable account of what was actually taking place in the event.
Watching Australians turn in a fifth or sixth place performance, then Basil Zempilas attempting to convince me they were moving through the field with a chance of a medal when the opposite seemed the reality was commonplace.
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Bruce McAvaney wasn’t at his best and gave Australians chances mid-race that were highly unlikely, and on occasions, just plain false.
The absurd focus on athletes such as the Campbell sisters creates a scenario that can hit pay dirt if things play out the way that Seven anticipates, yet leaves everyone with a strange and hollow feeling when the script goes wrong.
The Australian media’s promotion of Cate and Bronte was disgraceful. Athletes shouldn’t have to stand and discuss failing the public immediately after the event. In addition, they don’t need to be reminded that they’re still supported in spite of their performance.
Australia’s achievements through Sydney, Athens and Beijing have created an unrealistic expectation around our current performances.
London and Rio have been disappointing in many areas, yet realistically, symbolise a return to where we probably truly belong on the medal tally.
The Kookaburras and Hockeyroos have undoubtedly slipped, our swimmers were clearly off the mark and our cyclists are nothing but a shadow of the powerhouse squads of previous Olympics. Massive investment in these teams led to wonderful results in the past.
Some of my earliest memories of the Olympics stem from 1980 and the significantly boycotted Russian games.
Australia managed two golds and nine medals in total. Four years later, Los Angeles produced another disappointing haul of four golds and 24 overall medals.
Some argue that performance-enhancing drugs played a role in Australia’s demise from the glory days of the 50s and early 60s.
Australia infamously managed no gold medals at all in Montreal in 1976 and systemic doping by Eastern European nations is often cited as the cause.
However, we would be foolish to deny the fact that Australians are competing against just as many cheats as ever before, and the recent exposure of the Russian Team is a clear sign that PEDs are as big an issue as ever.
Therefore, the disappointment many feel around the Rio performances must stem from elsewhere. I think it does.
The extra money and resources committed in preparation for Sydney bled into Athens and, as with all host nations, eventually levelled out again.
Rio was always going to be a great Olympics for the British, as the medals continue to flow following an enormous financial investment prior to London. The lottery system has proven a masterstroke reversing the embarrassment of a single gold medal in Atlanta to 27 golds in Rio.
A country with the population of Great Britain should beat Australia comfortably if financial investment and access to facilities and coaches are somewhat comparable.
In much the same way, if professional and financial preparation for the games is comparable, the powerful American and Chinese medal tallies will always be dominant. The only variable is population and that still plays a fundamental role in the success of a nation at Olympic level.
Perhaps as a nation, it’s time to re-evaluate what success means in terms of the Olympics. Returning to a realistic level of expectation and being content with the Rio performance might be a healthy shift, in terms of lessening pressure on athletes and the way that host broadcasters deliver the games to us through the media.
I enjoyed the games far more when the focus was centred on performance, records and the Olympic spirit rather than the Australian-centric​ presentations that we currently endure.
It’s time for us to settle back down to being who we really are in the Olympic landscape. That is, a worthy adversary and a proud Olympic participant capable of knocking off the big teams every now and again, not a nation who damage and hamper themselves with over expectation and pressure.