In the land Down Under, silver has become the new gold.
At home, Australia’s two-speed economy is based around finding valuable metals such as gold. Unfortunately for Australia’s Olympians, that search has hit a dud-seam in London.
For a country that has become accustomed to winning a paddling pool of Olympic swimming gold medals, the past week has prompted usually overconfident Australian sports fans (such as myself) to scratch their heads in disbelief at their athletes’ absence atop the podium.
Australia, with its relatively small population of 21m, has traditionally punched well above its weight in recent Olympic Games. The current medals table of one gold and eight silvers tells another tale.
To make matters even worse, the unthinkable has just occurred: New Zealand – our traditional rival to the east – has drawn clear of Australia in the medal count, thanks to two golds in the rowing. For those of us from “the West Island”, as some Kiwis describe that rather substantial land mass across the Tasman Strait, the shame is almost unbearable.
With the exception of a single gold in the women’s 100 metre freestyle relay, Australia’s swimmers – like the country’s mining-led economy – have been decidedly two-speed: slow, or a touch slower than the winner.
That “touch slower” was highlighted earlier this week when James “The Missile” Magnussen misfired in the 100 metres freestyle, losing by a fingernail to Nathan Adrian of the US.
Magnussen, all flipper-like feet and muscle, was the reigning world champion in the event, and was widely tipped for Olympic glory, but that fingernail – measured at just one-100th of a second – could have been the size of the Great Barrier Reef, as far as many Australian media commentators were concerned.
It did not take long for the Australian media’s knives to be stropped to a silver medal-like shine, in spite of poor old Magnussen’s very un-Aussie-like mea culpa.
“The biggest defeat since Gallipoli. An Australian missile crisis. Swimming’s darkest day”, were among the comments from seething Aussie journalists.
Similarly, Emily Seebohm blamed her obsession with social media for narrowly missing out on gold in the 100m backstroke.
“I felt like I didn’t really get off [social media] and get into my own mind. I obviously need to sign out of Twitter and log out of Facebook a lot sooner than I did,” she told reporters.
The list of Aussie also-rans goes on.
Stephanie Rice lost her bubble and failed to display the snap, crackle and pop that won her three gold medals and set three world records in Beijing.
Her spectacular achievements of four years ago have been all-but forgotten by the fickle Australian public, which is accustomed to winning at all things sports – a notable exception being the past couple of Ashes cricket series, but that’s another blog.
In spite of Matthew Engel’s pleas for Olympics observers to take less notice of their country’s position on the medals table, such notions are laughable among the sports-obsessed Aussie public, which is satisfied with nothing less than victory.
If Australia fails to overtake the likes of North Korea, Kazakhstan, Hungary and Ukraine in the table, the country’s Olympic heads can expect the recriminations to begin well before the team reaches the Qantas Club lounge at Heathrow.