Success is not only about medals
With four gold medals in the last three nights, the London Olympics are starting to not look so bad for Australia. But what struck me as I watched Sally Pearson become our latest golden girl in a night of Aussie glory, is the stark contrast in treatment between our track athletes and swimmers.
When Steve Solomon finished last in the mens’ 400m final, he was ecstatic and no one asked him if he was disappointed or felt he had fallen short.
Yet, almost all of our swimmers were subjected to that line of questioning, regardless of event or ability.
Swimmers weren’t alone, with long jump silver medallist Mitchell Watt airing his frustration over similar questions that were put to him.
A lot of our swimmers have been unfairly targeted for letting Australia down if they failed to win a medal, often in events where they did not have a legitimate chance.
Deep down, I believe most of the country knew that our chances were slim in many of these events, but few expected to have such a painful first Olympic week.
The discussion in the ensuing days has been on the swimming team’s failure to grasp gold (or silver or bronze in some cases), but I don’t think that’s really what the problem is.
Australians did have unrealistic expectations coming into London, based on our extraordinary hauls in previous Olympics.
Our swimmers always bear an extra load at any major event, but this time our young, inexperienced squad simply crumbled under the burning spotlight.
Under the weight of unrealistic expectation, they could not even reach their own reasonable aspirations.
And that is where I think that much of the disappointment lies, from knowing that many of our swimmers actually could have swum faster.
I lost count of the number of times I heard or read that an Australian swimmer had missed their PB by a long way or failed to replicate the time they swam at the Australian trials.
And this was part of what separated us from other nations, both traditional powerhouses like the US and emerging superstars like China’s Ye Shiwen.
Our swimming team is still reasonably young and less than a handful of realistic chances for gold were available to them.
However, even inexperienced athletes would be aiming to swim at least close to their best in any big meet, particularly the Olympics.
Back at Olympic Stadium on the other hand, Solomon ran two PBs in as many races and was close to a third in the final.
He definitely did not have anywhere near as much pressure as the swimming team, but he did what athletes aim to do in big meets.
Success or failure should not be centred around number of times you hear ‘Advance Australia Fair’ in a fortnight.
Rather, we should be focused on how close our athletes are to their best on the day.
The real question that needs to be asked is not why our swimmers did not win medals, but why they consistently came up short against their own performances?
Why did our swimmers fail to match-up to their own benchmarks, separate to that of the medal dais, set only months ago?
Their times prove that they’re up to it physically, but something isn’t clicking psychologically.
We need to reign in our expectations, but regardless of age or experience, every athlete should be peaking at the Olympics. If they’re not, it’s okay to ask why.