What if the Olympics were held in Australia this year?
Host nations in recent history have all enjoyed a strong Olympic campaign, with big improvements in medal tallies. Just 12 years ago, Australia blitzed to a record 16 gold, 25 silver and 17 bronze. But, if Australia, not England, were hosting the Olympics this year, what differences would there be?
Well for starters, right now, we’d still be counting down the weeks to the opening ceremony. The athletes village would still be largely empty. The fine tuning of preparations would be continuing.
That’s because, the end of July and early August are far too cold (with the exception of Darwin and Brisbane) and wet to be labelled “Summer”.
In 2000, the Sydney Olympics began much later than 2012, opening on 15th September. 1956 was later still: they didn’t open until the 22nd of November. So we would still be waiting for the party to come to town.
From a cycling perspective, this is a big deal, as not only would the Tour have been run and won, but the Vuelta as well. Which would make the Olympics and the World Tour take on a decidedly different look.
From the outset, it’s likely that we would have seen a surprise winner of the Vuelta, as most, if not all the strong Olympic chances would have foregone the race for the Olympics. Certainly, the likes of Cadel Evans, Bradley Wiggins, Andy Schleck, Alberto Contador, Samuel Sanchez et al would not be in Spain.
However, given how topsy-turvy this year has been due to injury, illness and doping bans, its likely that at least one big name would be using the Vuelta as a last minute tune up for the Olympics.
However, I doubt it would have influenced the result of the Tour or the Giro. Being so far out from an Australian Olympics, I doubt many riders would have missed the Tour to prepare.
Seeing as riders still have to make the long haul from Europe where they spend most of their year, the travel effect does come into play. Those who did not race the Vuelta would likely be able to mitigate this effect by arriving here early and getting some training done in order to acclimatise. However, as mentioned above, those who needed the Vuelta as a last minute tune-up would be feeling the after-effects of a the 20-hour-plus flight.
So you might be thinking “ah ha! Australia gets the home town advantage!”
Sorry to burst your boiler on that one. While it is on home soil and our Aussie cyclists would be extra pumped to perform well, most of our roadies are based in Europe for at least six months of the year.
A lot of the track World Cup meets are in Europe, as are the UCI MTB World Cup. Hence, “knowing the course” doesn’t really come into play much, particularly for road and track.
Moreover, Australia’s record in cycling in Sydney was pretty shoddy to be honest: six medals, the solitary gold coming in the Men’s Madison thanks to Scott McGrory and Brett Aitken.
However, its not all doom and gloom. In the past few years, Australia’s track cycling program has really taken off, we have two of the best BMX riders in the world and after Cadel’s World Championship in 2009, our road program has come on in leaps and bounds.
Australia’s track team won six gold medals at the World Championships earlier this year, equal with Great Britain. Only three came in Olympic events but Australia really should have won the Men’s Team Pursuit, after having three of the top four individual pursuit riders, while the Poms had none.
Similarly, Anna Meares was robbed of a gold medal in the Women’s Sprint due to a technicality when she was clearly better than Pendleton in the semis. So, in essence, that’s five Olympic gold medals.
With Shane Perkins in peak form, he’d be in with a crack of the Men’s Individual Sprint and Keirin. Give him one of those on home soil, which would make it six altogether. I doubt we could make up any more on the track. The British women’s pursuit team is just too strong for our girls and Laura Trott destroyed everyone in the Omnium.
I’d bank on Sam Willoughby and Caroline Buchanan winning the BMX golds if they were held in Australia, giving us eight. I’d also be pretty sure that Matt Goss could overcome Mark Cavendish and win Olympic gold in the Road Race.
Cav doesn’t have a good record in Australia, having crashed heavily a number of times in the Tour Down Under.
Overall, if the Olympics were held in Australia, I’d give us a tally of nine gold in cycling, which would make up a significant proportion of our overall medal haul. However, I’ve only really told half the story there.
The Olympics aren’t being held in Australia, they’re in London. On that basis, I’d be giving us a modest five. I think Anna Meares will win at least one of the Keirin or the Sprint, but I doubt she and Kaarle McCulloch can overpower either the Germans or the Brits in the Team Sprint.
Give the Aussie boys the Team Pursuit gold. They’ll bounce back strong after the disappointment in Melbourne. I’d also be fairly certain that Glenn O’Shea will win the Omnium.
Combine those three with two BMX gold, and we have five.
That’s a fairly big drop from nine, and I really hope I’m proved wrong and we do get some surprise victories.
But with the Brits the reigning world champions on the road, with numerous track world champions and the hometown advantage, I can’t see us getting more than that.