They were all there. Journalists from Australia’s TV networks, newspapers and radio stations crowded around waiting to speak to James Magnussen.
When the 21-year-old finally walked in the media swarmed and the questions came thick and fast. “Are you ready?” “Are you thinking about Olympic gold yet?”
After Magnussen left, every other Australian swimmer who stepped up to speak to the throng of media also found themselves fielding questions about Magnussen.
“What makes the missile so special?”
That was just under two weeks before the start of the Olympic games and the atmosphere amongst both the Australian swimming team and the media following it has changed a lot since then.
Just one gold, the first time in 36 years Australia hasn’t won an individual gold medal in the pool, will do that.
The green and gold’s search for ‘weapons of mass destruction’ has been about as successful as George Bush Jnr’s.
So the first head on the chopping block has been the missile himself, Magnussen.
“When you flag your intentions to the rest of the world…someone’s going to come and get you, aren’t they,” claimed Rebecca Wilson.
It’s the sort of misguided criticism you see when someone doesn’t really know how to analyse the technical details of a sport – a prevalent issue when broadcasters have to find talent for dozens of sports that only garner public attention every four years.
Wilson’s comments are also part of a wave of criticism and self-reflection sweeping an Australian public used to a gold rush in the pool.
Yet questions like what has gone wrong and who should pay for our lack of gold can be dangerous.
The nature of the Olympics leads us towards the temptation of rating the success of a multi-million dollar sports program on results that can be out of your control instead of the processes used and decisions made along the way.
Magnussen lost the 100m freestyle final at his first Olympic games by 0.01s – you simply can’t legislate for that. The positive though is after years without a serious Australian hope in swimming’s blue ribbon event, a talent has been identified and developed.
This is not a deflection of blame, after every major tournament it is crucial to take a look at the success and merits of a program, but judgements must use more than the results of a single meet.
In the meantime Australians who feel they haven’t gotten bang for their annual $100m of taxpayer buck spent on Olympic sports should consider whether it’s the outcome or the outlay they should be questioning.
At St James’ Park in Newcastle on Tuesday, a Colombian man named Juan Pablo spent the lead up to the start of la seleccion femenina’s match against France walking around the stands uniting all of his fellow countrymen and women into one big group.
With dozens of Colombians gathered, they began singing and chanting with such passion the locals were soon joining in.
As the crowd’s attention focused on the Colombian fans, Juan Pablo stepped to the front of the stand and unfurled a homemade placard. Yet it wasn’t for the players, but the crowd.
It read: “England thank you very much for having our team here in Newcastle for the Olympics.”
It garnered a standing ovation and amazingly at the end of the game locals were asking this passionate and humble Colombian for his autograph.
I wonder when we as Australians lost the joy and pride of competing in a global event and replaced our Olympic dreams with the demand for golden ones.