For my fellow Australians in the USA, this has been a particularly frustrating Olympics. We started out excited to cheer on the Aussies, secure in the knowledge that Australia has enjoyed almost two decades of Olympic success. And while being the strongest in The Commonwealth means that we usually surpass this year’s host, Great Britain, the past few Olympics have found Australia sitting in the top 10 of the overall medal tally.
Which also means that we have the advantage of giving our current host country, the USA, a serious run for its money, making for some exciting spectatorship – particularly in our traditional strong sport: the swimming.
But this year, during most televised Olympic events that I’ve watched, my own cheers for the Aussies have given way to resounding chants of victory for the USA. There’s only so much “USA! USA! USA!” an Australian can listen to without feeling a little sad about not being able to retaliate with “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!”, especially when a few beers are involved.
Like a fish out of water, I watched last week as the Aussies continually failed to get swimming gold. While we all jumped for joy over that fantastic win in the 4×100 women’s relay, I admonished the Aussie media for reporting silver as a disappointment while at the same time, I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed myself. ”But we’re usually so good at swimming!” I told myself. Over the last week, whenever the Olympics have come up in conversation, it’s inevitably turned to a regrettable mumble about the Aussies being somewhat of a no-show in the pool. But before you tell me to embrace silver as the new gold, here’s the thing: I couldn’t help but think that were I in Australia, it would be a lot easier to see the silver as a victory. You see: since so much of the patchy NBC Olympic coverage has primarily focused on the USA, it’s much harder to celebrate an Aussie silver when you’re unlikely to have the commenters talk about it at all.
And so I did some Seoul (sorry) searching.
In my longing for the glory days of Perkins, Hackett and Thorpe, I wondered why it was so easy for us as proud Aussies to be disappointed in a resounding second best. So I decided to do some googling about our Olympic greats, reading up on the careers of Aussie swimming legends such as Shane Gould and Dawn Fraser. Then I stumbled upon the Australian Swimming Medalists Wikipedia Page, and it was there that I found the reason for our hurt: did you know that Australia has won 58 gold medals in swimming since we first competed 1900 Summer Olympics? And guess which is the only country that’s done better? Yes, it’s the USA, with a whopping 217 gold medals in the sport.
In the meantime, to add chlorine to the wounds, New Zealand – with a fraction of the population of Australia – had been trumping us in both the gold and the overall Olympic medal tally. This prompted one Aussie newspaper to horribly amalgamate the two countries in its own medal tally as “AUS ZEALAND” . Worse still, one other publication left New Zealand out of the list altogether by only publishing the top nine in the medal tally. While my Wikipedia research has taught me that Australia and New Zealand both competed jointly as Australasia in the 1908 and 1912 Olympics, that was a long time ago. Surely now that we’re now solidly both separate countries we could enjoy New Zealand’s success and not try to claim it as our own? We already did that with Phar Lap and Russel Crowe, and look at how well that worked out.
And then something amazing happened: this week – the second one in the 2012 Olympics, our heavy tally of silver and bronze gave way to 3 surprising – and exciting – gold medal wins in two days.
It started out with Tom Slingsby winning the first Aussie solo gold at the 2012 Olympics in sailing. Then, today, we found Team Australia on the receiving end of two more Olympic gold medals: First off, Anna Meares in the Track Cycling and then, in the 100m Hurdles, Sally Pearson.
And this led to another welcome consequence: Australia climbed way up in the medal rankings, close to where we should be: sitting pretty close to the top 10 at number 11.
Sure, we may still be getting beaten by Kazakhstan with six gold medals (try to avoid a Borat reference there), there’s still a good deal of hope left in us for a top ten finish. In the meantime, I for one plan to continue cheering on the Aussies – and embracing the silver, bronze and (hopefully more) gold that are keeping us well ahead of the pack.
Do you agree with the Author’s thoughts? Dissapointed with the Aussie medal tally or delighted? Have your say in the comments below.