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Lessons From the Paralympics That Have Been Learnt and Can be Harnessed

The Paralympics have now been over for a bit over half a week. They were a top-class event put together by a masterful organising committee that also had responsibility for that other successful major event, the Olympic Games. Australia did so well. We put together the most successful touring performance of any Australian Paralympic team in history. That performance put us just two gold medals and a number of silver and bronze behind the strongly-funded hosts, Great Britain and just four golds and a handful of minor medals behind second placed Russian Federation.

But far from the phenomenal medal-winning performances and that of all the athletes across all nations involved, the London 2012 Paralympics have taught us some valuable lessons which can be harnessed to facilitate lasting change when it comes to the politics of disability.

Firstly, London put on an amazing show, on an unprecedented scale. These were the highest selling Paralympic Games ever. That mantle looks sure to be safe for quite some time too, perhaps never to be broken, ever. Nearly all of the two and a half million tickets allocated for the Games in London were sold, that makes a huge change to the usually relatively empty stands that our Paralympians tend to have to deal with every four years.

This says that London and Europe in particular “do” disability very well. It shows that people there view disability much more favourably than the much discriminated against and stigmatised disability community here in Australia. This could be a product of many things, but clearly disability and difference experiences a much greater degree of acceptance across Europe. That’s not to say things are great over there, disability has experienced cuts as the economic woes continue in that region.

A large contributing factor is probably how the welfare state is viewed in Europe as compared to Australia. There is less of a stigma to it in that region of the world. Those who rely on it are not discriminated against as much and are viewed as needing it and entitled to it, more so than Australians who tend to view welfare, even for those who cannot avoid it, with a level of disdain.

What the great spectator turnout at the Paralympics also shows is that disabled sport now appears, at least in Europe as just as elite and requiring just as much training, skill, ability and overall sporting prowess as the “able bods”.

But far from the lessons we can learn about Europe and how they view disability, we can also look at how they were viewed back here at home in Australia.

That story is almost as positive. As I wrote last week, the Paralympic Games from London consistently brought strong ratings for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s digital channel, ABC2, as well as the original channel, ABC1. That means Australians were more than willing to give the Paralympics a go and the relatively consistent ratings throughout proves that people continued to be enthralled by the exploits of our elite athletes.

It shows that, as I wrote last week, the Paralympic Games have the ability to transform how we view disability here in Australia, not just the sporting abilities of those with impairments, but also how disability is looked at within the broader community.

The efforts of our Paralympians must be harnessed by disability advocates in order to continue to foment change in such a neglected sector of the community. It shows that the efforts of supporters of those with a disability may well not be in vain, that there is a positive view of disability that is growing across Australia. That growth may be slow, but it is something that can be pushed along just that little bit faster by displays such as the Paralympics. Stigmas are hard to break, some would say impossible, but you certainly couldn’t say that after the last two weeks.

Australia and the world is learning and learning fast about disability. But that means absolutely nothing if the lessons that have been learnt over the last two weeks are not actually used to further the interests of people with a disability. It would be nice if Australia could aim to be more accepting of disability than the Brits showed. You could call it the ‘Ashes of Acceptance’, since we love beating the Poms so much at contests.

It’s Okay to be Inspired by Our Paralympians

The London 2012 Paralympic Games are almost over. Most races and events have been run and won. Australia has done amazingly well given the relatively small contingent of 161 athletes representing us against some of the bigger teams we are competing with. As a nation, Australia have, at the time of writing, scored a total of 25 gold, 18 silver and 26 bronze, a phenomenal haul, putting us 5th on the medal tally, happily just ahead of the United States of America. The only teams ahead of us are China way out in front, the host nation Great Britain even in gold medals with Russia but ahead on the overall count and Ukraine ahead of us by two.

At just 5:30am in the morning on the 30th of August Australian time, a total of 347,000 Australians woke up to tune into the Opening Ceremony of the London Paralympics, giving the station some of its strongest ratings ever. These relatively high viewing numbers have continued throughout the coverage of the events during the 7-11:00pm timeslot  on the ABC’s digital television station ABC2. The Paralympics have also continued to be shown on ABC1 for the finals sessions, occurring from 4am in the morning AEST.

But aside from the prolific medal-winning performances of our Paralympians in London, the biggest and most important element of the Paralympics is the effects that it is having back here at home on the Australian population.

The Paralympic Games, with such in-depth coverage give the opportunity for transformative effects on the Australian population, in particular the way in which people with a disability are viewed in Australia. All too often those with a disability are viewed by some ‘able-bods’ as having little worth and something to gawk at when we dare venture out into the community to live our lives to the best of our boundless abilities.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent times within the disability community about the word inspiration and particularly about so-called ‘inspiration porn’, that is, images of people with a disability with slogans meant to tug at the heartstrings. A lot of that has been viewed by those who have a disability with disdain.

Equally too and relevant directly to the 2012 Paralympics, words such as ‘inspirational’ and ‘amazing’ have been used to excess in describing the astonishing feats of our elite athletes with a disability. These comments again from some in the disability community have drawn equal condemnation to that which inspiration porn has attracted.

Many want our Paralympians to be seen as no different to our Olympians. They are elite sportspeople getting out of bed early and often to train to the highest level in their chosen sport. They don’t want to be seen as having done something any different to that of athletes without an impairment.

In the case of the Paralympics though, is it fair to view people commenting about the achievements of our Paralympic athletes with the kind of annoyance of that in relation to inspiration porn?

Recently, our Olympians had their shot at glory and in the early days of the Games, didn’t have as much success as was expected. But then we came good in the latter stages of the event to at least gain a respectable finish.

The superlatives flew in the final days of the competition with the strong performances we recorded, particularly in events we weren’t expected to excel in after under-performing in those we were. During the Olympic Games in London the words ‘inspirational’ and ‘extraordinary’ and just about any other superlative in existence were used to describe our Olympic athletes too.

So in this sense, we aren’t treating athletes with a disability any differently to athletes that do not. We might use a different degree of vigour in describing the efforts of our Paralympians, but for all intents and purposes they’re being referred to in exactly the same way as their Olympic counterparts.

We as Australians find our sportsmen and women inspiring. Sport is so entwined in our culture that we elevate those that show immense sporting prowess to a g0d-like status. Now that might be right or wrong, but that’s what happens and that is now happening to a similar extent with the broader commentary that our Paralympic athletes have been subjected to since the London Paralympics began.

That doesn’t mean that the occasional over-enthusiastic labelling of a Paralympian’s effort hasn’t occurred during the coverage of the Paralympic Games. It probably has. But is this automatically a bad thing?

Disability in Australia, as mentioned earlier, is not viewed as favourably and treated as equally as it is in particularly European countries and in the UK as anecdotal evidence has shown over the past week and a bit. So any change in the Australian mindset that results from this more in-depth broadcasting of the most elite of disabled sporting events should be viewed as a positive.

The fact  that our Paralympic athletes are now being referred to as inspirational and amazing signals at least a small shift in the perceptions of disability and it would be great if this continued to pervade the Australian political, social and cultural discourse.

It shouldn’t particularly matter how the minds of Australians are changed when viewing disability, providing that people aren’t condescending pricks when they talk to or about someone with a disability, what should matter is that the change itself is occurring.

So let’s embrace the inspirational, amazing, fantastic exploits of our Paralympic heroes, perhaps then, through maintained or increased exposure, we’ll begin to experience the change in thinking that we want to see.

My Top Moments of the Paralympic Games So Far

The London 2012 Paralympic Games are now more than half done for another year. There have been a number of sensational performances including proimising results from up and coming competitors in the Paralympic arena. Australia stands fourth in the medal tally with 16 gold, thirteen silver and 19 bronze, behind China in 1st on 46 gold, Great Britain in 2nd on 19 and Russia in 3rd with 16 gold like Australia, but more silver. We look almost set for a top 5 finish which is excellent given the stiff competition we’ve faced, but we are certain to finish top 7 with Germany having to make up a significant gap without Australia winning anymore gold just to be on even terms.

The first amazing performance is actually an amazing effort across a number of events. Maddison Elliott in the Australian swimming team is competing in her first Paralympic Games and that’s just as well, given that she’s just 13 years old. The up and coming swimmer from the Hunter Valley has just claimed her first ever Paralympic gold medal as a part of the women’s 4x100m combined 34 point relay overnight London time. This comes after Maddison became the youngest ever Paralympic silver medallist and earlier claimed a bronze medal in the pool.

The next amazing moment comes from the relatively well-known three-time Paralympian, Matthew Cowdrey, for whom history beckons as the greatest ever Paralympian Australia has produced. Matthew Cowdrey yesterday equalled that mark in the men’s combined 34 point 4x100m freestyle relay, moving to 10 gold medals.

Next up, who could go past Jacqueline Freney who is the single biggest medal winner of any competitor at these 2012 Paralympics. The competitor from the S7 and SM 7 classification was the anchor leg of the women’s combined 34 point 4x100m freestyle relay and also just won gold in the 10om freestyle for her class.

Finally, to the most talked about and debated upset of the 2012 Paralympics. Yes, just about everyone on the planet has heard about it, Oscar Pistorius being beaten into 2nd in the T44 200m at the track. The hot favourite was beaten by Brazilian Alan Oliveira in the closing stages of the race with the relative unknown eclipsing the almost unbackable Pistorius. Immediately Oscar Pistorius questioned the win when interviewed for television and the win has sent the sporting world into a frenzied debate again over the use of the prosthetic blades.

Those are just four of the most interesting, exhilarating, inspiring and in the case of the last example, controversial moments. But there are still 6 days left which promise to bring more amazing performances including, hopefully from our wheelchair basketball teams, the wheelchair rugby team. Expect more gold medal exploits in the pool too, perhaps with Matt Cowdrey eclipsing Tim Sullivan’s combined Paralympic gold medal haul across his career. With that much time left, there is still plenty of opportunities for more gold, silver and bronze.

How About We Let the Sport do the Talking?

The London 2012 Paralympic Games are here, they’re finally here. The biggest ever Paralympic Games have returned to land of their spiritual birthplace, England. Over 4000 athletes have converged on the Paralympic Village, ready to compete across 21 sports, some everyday sports and some  adapted especially for athletes with a disability. This Paralympic Games has also seen the most number of tickets sold for the entire event, with 2.4 of 2.5 million tickets snapped up by sports mad people from the United Kingdom and around the world.

The television coverage domestically has also promised to be huge. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the perennial broadcast partner for the Paralympic Games again won the right to broadcast the event from start to finish. The ABC coverage of this year’s Paralympics has been much talked about. With the advent of digital television and the subsequent new channels allowing for greater coverage of this important sporting exhibition, more coverage, much more was promised.

Across two channels, the ABC have begun broadcasting a total of nine and a half hours daily from the Paralympic Games. This is a big shift from years previous when a highlights show and some radio commentary were the stock standard fare and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation should be congratulated for committing to such widespread coverage and the fact that the exposure of the Games is heading in the right direction, up.

Aside from the opening ceremony, which was brilliantly- read minimally narrated and impressively broadcast to the Australian people, the televising of the actual sporting prowess of our Paralympic athletes began right as the competition started.

That broadcast was headed in the studio by Stephanie Brantz, no stranger to sports commentary, as well as being co-hosted by comedian Lawrence Mooney, actor Adam Zwar and Sam Pang. Guests joined the hosts throughout four and a half hours of coverage on the ABC’s digital television channel.

A number of the finest voices of ABC Grandstand and ABC Radio  were stationed at the sporting venues across London, ready to bring the action to a curious Australian audience to a magnitude never seen before in this country.

If there was a failure of the coverage last night, it was that there was too much talk and not enough action. The stars of the Paralympics are supposed to be the athletes who’ve put in massive effort over the years and overcome more adversity than most people will ever encounter.

Instead, for much of the night, we were made familiar with the comedic exploits in particular of Lawrence Mooney and Adam Zwar, but also Sam Pang, who’ve been in the United Kingdom for some time already. The chat was interweaved with numerous introductions to the Australian team and some of its members individually, but that would ideally have taken place while there was little or no sport on, say between 6 and 7pm last night.

Oh and another thing. The only thing “live” about most of the coverage last night and yes the website says it was supposed to be live, is that the commentators were broadcasting live from London. Very little of the sport appeared live amid all the chin-wagging back in the studio. At one point the swimming heats went from one of the later heats in one event, directly to the second heat of presumably the next event. I’m sorry, but to me live coverage means footage of the actual competition is beamed to our televisions instantaneously,  not people sitting around in a studio talking about the sports we want to see as viewers.

As an indication of just how wrong they got it with the coverage last night, Twitter was abuzz with comments lamenting the lack of athletic action being displayed on televisions around Australia. One person even remarked to me that they were so disappointed they felt that switching off after a while was the only answer.

So here’s a radical thought: more sport and less talk. We know the c0-hosts are funny or at least try to be. But they’re not why we as viewers are tuning in. We want to see sporting genius, we want to share the joy of stellar efforts in the pool, on the road, the track and the other arenas. If we wanted a laugh we’d go to their gigs. To steal a line from Elvis and alter it just a bit, a little less conversation, a little more sporting action please.

There’s One Sporting Team to Come That Won’t Need a Performance Review Nor Extra Funding to Outstrip our Olympic Team

There’s just under three weeks to go until another massive sporting event begins in London. The 2012 Paralympic Games return to the spiritual birthplace of the Paralympic movement. Australia is traditionally very strong at the Paralympic Games compared to the Olympics, with medal tallies often outstripping that of our Olympians. Some will put that down to the extra events which are necessary to accommodate the varying levels of disability. Others, like me will say that has nothing to do with it, each respective athlete still has to be able to perform on the day.

One of the strongest sports at the Paralympics for Australia, if not the strongest, is traditionally the swimming, just like it is with that other competition they call the Olympics.

Unlike the Olympic counterparts, the Australian Paralympic Swimming team are unlikely to need a soul-searching performance review complete with navel-gazing to determine what went wrong with their campaign.

There’s likely to be a gold rush to rival Victoria in the 1800’s as I’ve written before. Our collective medal haul in the pool alone, if melted down, would likely save Spain and Greece from the ignominy of default. Okay, maybe I’m embellishing just a little bit, but nonetheless our performance in the pool alone at the Paralympics is a real possibility of eclipsing the overall gold medal tally of our Olympic team which currently stands at 5 golds.

And all that before factoring in the strong possibilities of gold medals in other sports for Australia at the London Paralympics.

Our athletics team which has not under-performed by any means in the past is likely to again bring home medals, some of them gold, but also silver and bronze.

With people like relatively well-known Paralympian Kurt Fearnley competing again in London we’re sure to make a strong showing. The three time gold medallist will line up for his third Paralympic Games in an attempt to win gold in the 800m, 1500m and the marathon which Kurt has made his own.

Other track and field athletes to look out for at the Paralympics include Kelly Cartwright who broke the long jump world record for her classification in 2011 and then earlier this year broke both the 100m and 200m world records in her class. Then there’s Evan O’Hanlon who broke his own world record this year in the 100m, Jessica Gallagher who’s competed in the Winter Paralympics before and medalled in the sport and up and comers some of whom will be in with a real shot of a medal.

Then you have the wheelchair basketball with the Australian men’s team, the Rollers the defending champions from Beijing who are sure to again push the USA, Canada and the home team Great Britain for another gold medal. Not to be outdone, the women’s team who received bronze at the Paralympic Games in China will also be a good chance of another medal.

Australia also has a great chance in the wheelchair rugby, popularly known as ‘murderball’ for the rough nature of the game. The Australian team, with superstar Ryley Batt, will want to go one better on their effort at the Chinese games and win back the gold which the team won at Sydney in 2000.

Those sports alone, chiefly swimming and athletics, should easily see the gold medal tally go into double figures before sports like cycling, equestrian, powerlifting, sailing and more.

We’ll be up against it with the British hosts having plunged an astronomic amount into funding for both Paralympic and Olympic athletes, but any review won’t be raising depressing concerns about the performance of our Paralympic athletes.

It’s time to get excited Australia, with nine and a half hours of live television coverage daily to keep you happy and up to date with our teams’ exploits.

A Quick and Free Review of the Australian Swimming Team

There is no doubt that the Australian swimming team performed poorly as compared with a number of previous Olympic campaigns. Those events we were expected to win, we either got painstakingly close, or our swimmers fell in a heap. Similarly, some of those swimmers that did not face a burden of expectation broke through to medal, at times in events you would’ve been excused to think we never had any hope in.

Our performances in the pool, which usually get us off to a strong start in the medal tally and up there with the best countries just didn’t happen. This has sparked a much publicised review by former Olympic champion swimmer Susie O’Neill and experienced swimming coach Bill Sweetenham.

The idea of a review of the sporting performance of our swimmers is not new. As Head Coach Leigh Nugent has pointed out, the swim team is always subject to a performance review after every major meet and well, the Olympics is up there with the major aquatic events that exist.

There should be absolutely no doubt that each individual swimmer and their respective coaches trained to exactly the same level they ordinarily would. This means intense and event targeted training for the whole time each swimmer remained with their local club’s before heading overseas for the pre-Olympics swimming camp and then London.

Tapering too would not have proved an issue and would have been closely supervised by the elite coaches travelling with the Australian swimming team in the weeks before London 2012. It is just too ridiculous a proposition to think that such high-level experts would have got the tapering of any of the athletes wrong.

Last night the ABC’s program 7.30 weighed into the debate with a report on the discord between the swimmers, their families and Swimming Australia. The story reviewed a shocking level of disdain for the athletes in one of our most successful sports at the Olympic level.

Daniel Kowalski, a former swimmer who now represents the Australian Swimmers’ Association said that just before the London Olympics commenced, while some Australian swimmers were in training together overseas, pay arrangements were changed. The pay scale was changed to a “high-performance model”.

In this model all of our swimmers were to be paid a small base rate with a significant performance bonus, if, and only if they received gold, silver or bronze from their respective events. The performance pay would net gold medal winners $35,000 and those who made the final but came in last $4000 for each event. But if you swam in a race and didn’t progress into the final, no dough.

Ordinarily, performance pay is a brilliant concept, providing that it doesn’t detract from a base wage. Much more importantly, bonuses for strong performances are an excellent idea providing you don’t do as Swimming Australia did and foist it upon athletes so near to a major competition, especially the highest of events.

Now, you might be wondering how this would impact on performance? The answer is quite simple. If you are worrying at the last minute before you’re expected to perform strongly in your chosen profession about how much money you might be taking home and it could affect how much money you have to pay bills, you’re not going to be thinking of your race so much.

There’s also another not so insignificant factor which may have impacted on our performances. That is the incredibly poor decision of the swimming team to not take a psychologist with them to the pre-games training camp and then into the Olympic village. There was nobody there that swimmers could trust, especially in light of Swimming Australia’s decision on pay, to air their concerns and emotions. This means there was nobody in London with the squad that would have been able to respond in a properly trained and professional manner to the worries that might distract the attention of athletes.

Another factor that cannot be discounted and which could have been more significant than any other factor in the sub-par performance of our swimming team is the performance of other countries. It’s not as if we didn’t contribute significant funds to our Olympians, we did. The strong performance of swimmers from other nations was probably unexpected. It should have been figured into the equation as a real possibility given the changing state of our swimming team, with past champions suffering from injury and others who were set to retire after London.

It’s clear that the cultural issues within the peak swimming body which undoubtedly flowed through to the swimming team were a major distraction for our swimmers. The significance of this was accelerated by the inability of members of the team to access professional psychological help while overseas.

There was certainly no problem with the workload of our athletes before the Olympics and the tapering while overseas clearly would not have been an issue either.

It is also undoubtedly a strong possibility that our swimmers were also outperformed in their events.

Clearly there are a number of things to work on before the next major international competition, the FINA World Championships in Barcelona next year, most within the control of the governing body for swimming in Australia. Some brutal honesty and soul searching is required during the upcoming review.

If You Build It He or She Won’t Automatically Come

There’s no denying we’ve not lived up to expectations as far as gold medals go at the London 2012 Olympic Games. So far we’ve won two golds, with another assured in the sailing and Sally Pearson looking very good to take top spot in the 100m hurdles tomorrow Australian time. Other teams and individuals are also chances in the remaining days of competition of winning gold for Australia. Our performance, which was looking like being about as bad as the 1988 Seoul Olympics is now on track to at least equal that, perhaps go a bit better.

Our swimming team which normally leads the charge hasn’t been as dominant in the first week of competition as they traditionally have been and that has led to us being behind the eight-ball. We could quite easily have been two or three medals up on our current tally of two gold medals had all gone to plan at the aquatic centre.

It is the performance of the Australian Olympic team, initiated by our swimmers in the pool that has sparked intense political debate from within the media, the sporting fraternity, government, interest groups and the broader community about different ways to ensure the lacklustre performance does not occur again in the future.

This has ranged from “stop funding our athletes” or “fund them on a performance basis” to “they’re doing well, just look at how many silvers and bronze they have received”. There have also been cries of “we need much more funding” from Olympic officials.

The below par efforts of our aquatic stars has also sparked a thorough review of the way we performed in the lead-up to and during the London Games and will be presided over by Bill Sweetenham and recent swimming critic and former superstar, Susie O’Neill.

But it is the entry into the debate of former New South Wales Premier, now Basketball Australia Chief Executive Officer, Kristina Keneally that is the latest in the argument over what needs to be done to improve our sporting prowess in the future.

The former politician turned sports administrator advocated in an interview on the ABC’s The World Today program for more participation in sport in primary school years for children.

This is certainly an enviable aim where teachers and parents should be both encouraging participation at an early age and also providing, where possible during a crammed school curriculum, for more sports-based educational opportunities. The benefits of this would be fitter and healthier children with the potential to develop their sporting abilities much further in the future.

But by far her most important overall point was that more sporting facilities need to be provided in Australia and that existing venues need to be brought up to a better standard. This is problematic. Indeed it is too simplistic an argument to say “if we build it, he (or she) will come.”

It is true that better sporting facilities, that is improving the ones that already exist, will mean that sporting clubs and venues better accommodate the needs of participants. We owe it to our kids to have better facilities for them to participate in but whose role that is, whether it be state or federal government or clubs or charities or a combination of some or all of the above is up for debate.

But it is not true or a given to say that improving sporting facilities will lead to increased participation by young people in the various sports that are played, particularly of a weekend on ovals, fields and courts and in pools around Australia.

It is even less the case that Kristina Keneally’s point about providing more facilities for sports will mean that people of a young, indeed all ages will want to participate in sport outside of school hours any more than they already do. New sporting facilities will only be filled if there is a demand for them and that partly goes back to schools and parents and the active encouragement they give their children as far as involvement in sport goes. Even then increased supply of sporting facilities would not necessarily lead to full venues.

It is only worth building extra facilities if it is a certainty that the increased numbers of sports fields will actually be utilised and not find themselves in a rundown state like some of the overused facilities.

What generally seems to work in regards to increased sporting participation is when there is an increased profile of particular sports and then with others that have been popular for some time like cricket, rugby league, rugby union, AFL and netball.

Encouragement of the young and impressionable is the key to greater sports participation and performance in the future, but that has to be balanced with parents and educators not placing unrealistic expectations on their children. What is certain is that new facilities will not automatically translate into new participants. If you build it, don’t automatically expect them to come.

It’s The Olympics, Who’s Really Putting the Pressure on Whom?

The London 2012 Olympic Games are now in full-swing. The early hiccups in the weeks prior to the games have been put behind them and the Brits are putting on a great show, albeit with crowds that have more holes than a sieve. Not all sports have started, with events like track and field and cycling yet to come where we’re in with a real shot at a number of medals, some of them quite possibly golden. The swimming, a traditional strength of Australia’s has begun though, with our athletes coming out with less of the prized gold than we’re used to and expectations dashed in some cases. We have though won silver in bronze in events we weren’t expected to with up and comer’s and dark horses stepping up when it counts.

Anyway, our performances and the reactions of varying degrees of the athletes making the massive efforts in competing at the Olympics has sparked a rather vigorous debate on social media and the opinion pages. Are we as Australian’s, are the media placing such high expectations on our athletes that they feel crushed under the pressure to deliver for a medal-hungry Australian public? Or are the athletes themselves the ones that are expecting too much of themselves? Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above?

So far Australia has won 1 gold, 6 silver and 2 bronze. So six people have come very close and further two near winning a gold medal. Our one gold came courtesy of the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay. Once again our female swimmers are the ones that are far performing their male counterparts in the pool as competition at the aquatic centre nears an end for another Olympiad.

This is the first Twitter Olympics really. Well not the first one since the social media platform has been around, but the first one where so many athletes have taken to using the medium to pass on their thoughts as the prepare to and while they compete during the London games. Twitter users have undoubtedly been putting some pressure on our athletes, sending messages to them like “go for gold” and “you can smash ’em”. So it would be easy for our athletes to get caught up in the hype and get nervous about their performances.

Although the Olympics is supposed to be about and was all about amateurs performing at their peak, these days the men and women competing are nearly all professionals competing in their chosen sport full-time. They should know or have access to tools which help them shut out the thoughts and comments of those sending messages to our Olympians, much of which is actually just hero worship, the idolising of people by the masses who’ve inspired them.

Many of these athletes have performed very well in the past to get them to the highest level of competition. A small number of them performing well enough in the lead-up to London 2012 to have that expectation of medalling, even winning put on them by all and sundry.

Are the media placing unrealistic expectations on our athletes? For the most part, no. The media have generally given athletes the “favourite” tag only if the individual athletes have performed over and above their peers in the lead-up to the event. That doesn’t excuse the over the top commentary which at times appears to shame our athletes who’ve in the eyes of the media “failed” by winning a medal of a different colour, or not at all when they’ve been expected to win a gold. Any medal, indeed just to be there is a massive effort in itself.

Could the athletes themselves be placing amazing levels of stress on themselves, such extreme expectations that they are exhausted by the stress of trying to live up to their own expectations? The answer here is likely yes. But the athletes placing such high expectations on themselves are generally those that have performed so well in the lead-in events, the heats and the semi-finals.

All athletes too expect to do their best. Those competitors that have done well at national and international events in the years and months before the Olympics will always have immense hopes for their Olympic experience. They will inevitably expect that to continue when they come to the once in four year event that is the Olympic Games. Let’s face it, with the event being that rare and the effort needed just to be able to participate in such a high level of sport being above and beyond 99.9% of the population our athletes are bound to break down to some degree if they don’t live up to their high hopes.

Truth be told, no one group is putting expectations on our Olympians above and beyond any other group. Australian’s are generally putting some level of hopes on our athletes based on past performances and the media hype. Are the media wrong in saying “hey, they’ve performed very well, they’re a great chance of a gold medal”? No. Our participants themselves are also responsible for the strain that they put on themselves knowing full well what is required and what might happen in their events.

Therefore, it seems all parties are in some part to blame for the expectations put on our athletes including in large part the athletes themselves. Much of the expectation is based on very impressive past experiences. How we as viewers and the media respond to performances which don’t live up to expectations, well that’s a different story entirely.

A Slow Lead-Out, But It Just Wasn’t the Day For Our Men’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay Team

The Australian Men’s 4x100m freestyle relay team had an off day in the pool, no doubt about that. The team went into the race hot favourites after speeding into the final with the fastest time of all the countries contesting the event. They deserved their ‘favourite’ tag with former champion and world record holder Eamon Sullivan and current world champion and holder of the fastest time this year, James ‘Missile’ Magnussen in the team. The team also contained the not inexperienced Matt Targett and James Roberts who stormed onto the team for the individual event behind Magnussen with a time in the high 47 seconds.

But ultimately, the also fast and favourites until Australia stormed home in the heats yesterday morning, the French prevailed in a time of 3:09.93. They came home 0.45 of a second ahead of the United States of America (3:10.38) and the also speedy Russians who managed to edge out Australia for third in a time of 3:11.41.

It wasn’t poor preparation that brought the team undone. They’d had just as much time preparing for the race as the Olympic champion women’s team did the day before. They completely smashed it, with anchor Melanie Schlanger storming home for Australia to take the gold. They put a great race together with all firing just when they needed to and that translated to the first gold medal of the 2012 Olympic Games for the Australian team.

It was certainly not a lack of potential for speed with two of our swimmers, the two James’ swimming times of 47 seconds this calendar year. Both did that at winning the trials in Adelaide just a matter of months ago, with Magnussen finding himself just outside the world record. Eamon Sullivan too has shown himself capable of swimming a time in the range of 47 seconds. Sullivan broke the world record twice, first at 47.24 and then took it back from fast Frenchman Alain Bernard with a time of 47.05, the latter a time .05 seconds faster than Magnussen’s best time of 47.10.

The decision for Magnussen to swim both the morning heat of the race and the final was at the very least an interesting one. Usually the fastest in the team are omitted in the morning to save them for the evening, but James Magnussen opted to swim in the heats to “blow the cobwebs out”. Swimmer’s at the top level should be able to back-up and swim a faster time in the evening finals than in the heats.

Another interesting decision was for ‘the missile’ to lead out the team in the final overnight. The fastest swimmer in the team is often used to anchor the swim so that they can swim over the top of other competitor nations if they are ahead of them.

Instead the strategy was theorised as the fastest swimmer going out first and going out hard and getting the team a sizeable lead for the weaker swimmers to defend in the final three legs of the relay. But that lead never materialised and there were teams ahead of us with Magnussen swimming a very poor opening leg of 48.03, almost a second outside his best.

Australia was behind from the get-go and never recovered with the slower of the swimmers, not slow by any stretch of the imagination unable to cut the deficit left after the first leg.

But it would be wrong to think that the fourth place was because of those two decisions. It simply was not. While they were strange decisions, Magnussen could just as easily have swum the same time in bringing the Australian relay team home. We won’t ever know, but it’s entirely plausible.

It’s also wrong to focus all the blame for the race on Magnussen. Being about one and a half seconds off the pace it was more than down to the slow Magnussen swim. It would have been much closer were James able to swim at his best, with a medal a certainty had he swum his best time, but not the gold. The others were responsible for the remaining gap of about half a second from the gold medal time.

Put simple, it just wasn’t the day for the men’s 4x100m relay team. They were probably partly a victim of their own high expectations, but elite athletes can and should know how to deal with this, especially with the support staff on offer. The team just didn’t perform and James Magnussen should not be too hard on himself. We need him back and swimming like a torpedo for the individual men’s 100m freestyle.

But really, a key reason Australia didn’t do so well? France, the US and Russia took advantage of the situation and swam better than our team.

The Mad Scramble is On, But the Show Will be Good

There are now only 8, yes EIGHT days left until that massive sporting event the London Olympics kicks off with what is sure to be an amazing opening ceremony  followed by two weeks of great sporting feats. Moments of sporting brilliance and achievement will abound. Until recent weeks and months it has been a good lead-up with the Brits looking more than ready to host such an epic sized event.

But then in recent times we’ve seen basic security cock-ups, the acknowledgement that all tickets were not and would not be sold, including football tickets no less. The arrival of the first athletes has seen the operation of Olympic only lanes commence on the roads, complete with a lost driver and traffic snarls. Then just yesterday an acknowledgement that one part of the opening ceremony act would need to be dropped to facilitate spectators making the last transport services of the evening. Oh and then there’s the weather. Finally, overnight came confirmation that airport border security staff would strike the day before the games begins.

But despite the scrambling things will be fine, there might be some hiccups along the way but all in all the show, including the bookend ceremonies will go on and will run smoothly.

The venues for one are finished and will be able to house the sports and events trouble free for the entire period of the Olympics. There won’t be any holes in the track, bumps where there should not be bumps or poorly designed stadiums.

The security shortfall caused by poor coordination on the part of G4S, the company contracted to provide basic security in the Olympic precinct and event locations will likely be fully plugged. The shortfall will likely be made up by police and defence personnel who will be redeployed from their regular postings to make up for this awful mistake, but it will happen, it has to.

The customs strike will cause some serious gridlock and delays at the airport and is an arrogant and calculated move attempting to embarrass the government. Above all though, people will still get to the Olympic events even after annoying delays which could have been postponed to a time where it wouldn’t result in negative perceptions from the all important tourist market.

All tickets will not be sold, that is a given. There will be numerous venues operating below capacity. But this won’t matter too much, except for the bottom line of the organisation behind the games. More will be given away and there will be a mad scramble to sell as many tickets as possible, even to the bloody football in England for goodness sake. That will surely cause some embarrassment for a soccer, sorry, football loving nation like Ol’ Blighty.

Traffic snarls will cause some headaches for the English people and Londoners with athlete only lanes in operation around and between venues. This will also lead to increased pressure on the public transport network which will be at peak capacity, even overflowing from now until the last of the athletes and visitors depart the nation.

The organising committee can only hope that all other drivers other than one this week actually know where they’re headed, but surely they do and in any case that is a pretty trivial example of an “issue”.

An act was dropped from the opening ceremony overnight, just over a week from the extravaganza commencing. That will be annoying for that act, who were undoubtedly excited to be playing their part in such an historic event. It will also be a tad embarrassing for the artistic director and the organisers who will not have wanted to come to that kind of realisation so close to the beginning of London 2012.

The weather might keep some of the spectators away but the large international contingent and the absolute Olympic fanatics are likely to still want to venture to events. In any case, many events take place in covered facilities anyway.

But these issues, save for likely gridlocked transport for regular Londoners and the broader English population and the serious, but likely to be overcome security shortfalls will not impact negatively on the running of the actual events. There may well be some holes in crowd shots at some of the events because not all tickets were sold and the weather might be a bit shite, but all are likely to go ahead with a level of ease, even if some have to be delayed because the weather is a bit dreary. Embarrassment might just be the worst outcome, along with a bit of a hit on the bottom line.

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