Wednesday 1 August 2012

When what glitters isn’t Gold…

By Lydia C. Lee

The Olympics was originally a festival of strong bodies and sporting events to please the Gods. The modern Olympics was, in part, intended for nations come together and ‘overcome national disputes, all in the name of sport.’ Somehow, along the way it stopped being about the best athletes in the world and became a festival of national pride. Something very important seems to have got lost in the process.
Making the Olympic team is something to be celebrated – you are the top of your country in your field. Should you make the final, that is truly an achievement as you are the cream of the international crop. Silver and Bronze are not medals to be dismissed. They are not second rate. Any medal at the Olympics is a mammoth achievement and should be feted as such. How have we come to a place where athletes cry in disappointment when they get Silver? Why is the poolside press asking them questions that imply they have failed? If you have a Silver medal, you have beaten every athlete in the World except one. That is a successful campaign in my book. Our media and coverage needs to readdress their view on these Games.
This week we had a media frenzy that Leisel Jones was ‘too fat’ to win – one unflattering photo and everyone seemed to forget that she did actually qualify. She didn’t just walk out of the crowd and decide to swim, she beat the times of other Australian swimmers to get to London. She went on to make the final, being older than most of the other athletes in the event. Making the final means she’s in the top eight in her field. Let’s celebrate that – it’s a fantastic achievement.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love our athletes to get the Gold Medal. I love it when they get Silver, Bronze or make the final. I love watching events if we are in it. I also love to watch the events that we aren’t in, as I am watching athletes perform at the highest level, no matter what country they’re representing. We should be watching the finals (or highlights) of all sports regardless of whether we have a contender in it. Their skill is surely awe inspiring enough to keep us entertained? Perhaps if we watched a broader coverage, we might see success in the medals the Australians have won, rather than failure.
There is an irony, of course, that despite our obsession with Gold, the moments we remember are those that capture our hearts, and rarely have to do with winning. They are the Eddie the eagle, Eric the eel or this time, Isskana moments.  My son asked me about Kathy Freeman and embarrassingly I told him she was a great runner who carried the flag for Australia and won a lot of Gold medals, but I had to google the details of the events. Yet I remember clearly the details of Jacobellis in the Snowboard Cross, celebrating too soon, stumbling and the boarder way behind in second, shot past to snatch the Gold. Yet strangely, I don’t remember the eventual winner’s name. Steven Bradbury will be remembered for his Gold, not so much because he won, but for the story that goes with it. His glory at the Olympics ranks high in my poll of memorable moments.
Pierre de Coubertin said ‘The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.’ This was on display over the stadium at the last London Olympics, back in 1948, and perhaps it needs to be on display again. One of the UK presenters commented that he thought the Australian athletes seemed really hard on themselves, and I think that we have done our athletes a real disservice in the media.  Let’s turn it around right now – there’s still time for us to celebrate our great athletes, and cheer them on regardless of the results, or expectations.
I want to see people run fast, shoot straight and swim exceptional times, regardless of their nationality. I want to watch the best of the best. I wish our athletes all the best in their events, but they’ve already succeeded by being there. Celebrate, whatever your personal outcome, as you are already superior in your field to the 22 million of us sitting in our lounge rooms.

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