Sometimes silver medals just suck
Australia's Emily Seebohm. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI
This week something outrageous happened – a red-hot Aussie favourite got narrowly beaten in the Olympic swimming pool.
Then, only two days later it happened again, except this time it was excruciating, with victory only 1/100th of a second away.
But the most ludicrous aspect of all of this was that both times, the Aussies in question had the cheek to be disappointed with second.
Years of swimming thousands of laps and waking up at sparrow’s to prepare for a once in a lifetime opportunity, only to miss out when your moment finally arrives.
Knowing that your best swim could have won the gold medal, but not knowing why you couldn’t achieve that time in the most important race of your life, with 22 million people halfway across the world pinning their hopes on you.
Don’t these swimmers know that being anything but ecstatic with silver, regardless of the context, is the most-un Australian thing ever apart from missing the gold?
Emily Seebohm and James Magnussen reacted the same way that anyone else would have in their situation.
People have been quick to brand them as bad sports for their post-race actions, but the fact is being disappointed is not bad sportsmanship.
After the 4x100m men’s freestyle relay, in which Australia finished fourth, Magnussen was visibly shattered.
He had missed his best time by a full second and was instantly turned into Australia’s Olympic villain.
He had little to say to media after the race and that made it worse, because obviously being speechless is the equivalent of being a petulant brat.
Seebohm on the other hand, could not say enough, an absolute wreck after her 100m backstroke final.
Yet her tears were seen as something more than the manifestation of the feeling that you have let down an entire nation in under a minute.
The reality of the situation is that she had let down no one, but I highly doubt that there was much rational thought going through her mind during her post-race chat.
In the 100m freestyle final, Magnussen had obviously learnt his lesson. After being touched out by a margin invisible to the naked eye, he stayed in the pool, stunned by the events that had transpired.
In the aftermath US winner, Nathan Adrian said, “I would still accept what an honour it is to have a silver medal. This is the Olympics after all.”
These words served as a reminder as to the significance of winning an Olympic medal of any colour.
But then, he wasn’t the one who lost.
Not being happy with a silver medal is not un-Australian and it is not bad sportsmanship.
Every athlete goes in to their Olympic event hoping to win and struggling to smile when you finish second best is not selfish or petulant.
Both Seebohm and Magnussen were upset for themselves but both showed the utmost respect for the actual gold medallists.
None of their negative emotion was directed at Missy Franklin or Adrian, it was always about their own failure to achieve what they knew they could.
This is what being an athlete is all about.
Your job is to do the best you can and, ultimately, to win.
These two swimmers swam their hearts out, but they both knew they could, go faster.
In fact both of them swam faster in the races to get them into their respective finals than in the main event.
So, let them be devastated, let them show their emotions and unleash from the increasingly robotic nature of professional athletes.
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