Given how competitive track is, with athletes from both the developing and developed nations vying for medals and income generated from competitions and sponsorship, today it is even more difficult for Australians to win global medals of any colour.
LeBron James. Neymar. Jarryd Hayne. Those are just a few of the household names who could find themselves at the Rio Olympics. But, as we continue our countdown to the Games, professional athletes are only a relatively new Olympic phenomenon.
When Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in the late 1800s, it was decided that only amateurs could participate in the Games in an attempt to make sure anyone who wanted to compete could compete. While the idea was sound, the rule was at times enforced to a fault.
No-one could attest to that more than American Jim Thorpe, who won the decathlon and pentathlon in 1912 only to have his medals stripped from him because he accepted a little bit of money for playing semi-professional baseball as a college student.
The decision devastated Thorpe, and while his achievements were reinstated in 1983, it came for too late for him. He had passed away 30 years earlier.
Nowadays, professionals are commonplace, which has led to a significant improvement of the athletes on display.
But the cynics out there can’t help but point to the rise of professionals coinciding with the advent of television and increased commercialisation.
Given how much the Olympics are now worth – the event was valued at $47.5 billion USD in the lead-up to the 2012 London Games – allowing professionals to compete has certainly paid off for the IOC. And, to be fair, most fans won’t complain given they now get to see even more of their favourite athletes.
But one can’t help but wonder what Pierre de Coubertin would make of the commercial behemoth the IOC has become.
Be sure to follow The Roar as we look back on some of the most memorable moments in Olympic history – be they weird and wacky or brilliant and significant – and count down the days until the Rio Olympics opening ceremony.
The Roar’s countdown to the Rio Olympics
50 days to go: Australia’s first Olympian, Edwin Flack
49 days to go: Brazil capitulate at the 2012 Olympics
48 days to go: Blood in the water during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics
47 days to go: Daniel Carroll, the man who won rugby gold with Australia and America
46 days to go: Margaret Abbott – the golfer who didn’t know she had won gold
45 days to go: Where did all the amateurs go?
44 days to go: Australia’s oarsome foursome
43 days to go: When Korea stood as one
42 Days to go: Oscar Swahn, the oldest Olympian
41 days to go: Edith Bosch – the Olympian not known for her medals
40 days to go: Jane Saville’s heartbreaking Sydney Olympics
39 days to go: Herb Elliot dominates in Rome 1960
38 days to go: Teofilo Stevenson, the boxer who might have beaten Ali
37 days to go: Betty Cuthbert steals the show in Melbourne
36 days to go: Jesse Owens’ heroic performance in Berlin
35 days to go: Eric the Eel steals Sydney’s heart
34 days to go: What happened to Cassius Clay’s gold medal?
33 days to go: Australia’s equestrian brilliance at Barcelona
32 days to go: The Olympic sports which are no longer with us
31 days to go: Debbie Flintoff-King wins on the line
30 days to go: The dominance of basketball’s Dream Team
29 days to go: Nadia Comenaci scores gymnastics’ first-ever perfect score
28 days to go: The man who stopped for a duck
27 days to go: The upset of the Sydney Olympics
26 days to go: Murray Rose’s scintilating Melbourne performance
25 days to go: Greg Louganis’ heroic comeback win
24 days to go: Fencing turns to duelling in Paris
23 days to go: Dawn Fraser’s flag-stealing shenanigans
22 days to go: The most prolific Olympic competitor
21 days to go: Duncan Armstrong’s underdog win in Seoul
20 days to go: Johnny Weissmuller: A brilliant swimmer and Hollywood actor
19 days to go: Majorie Jackson – the Lithgow Flash
18 days to go: Larisa Latynina, the most successful female Olympian
17 days to go: Dimitrios Loundras, the child who won an Olympic medal
16 days to go: Roy Jones Jr is robbed of an Olympic gold
15 days to go: Shane Gould’s superstar performance in Munich
14 days to go: The Kookaburras finally fly to the top of the world
13 days to go: Matthew Mitcham’s historic dive
12 days to go: Even Olympians are prone to the odd fail
11 days to go: Abebe Bikila wins the Olympic marathon running in bare feet
10 days to go: Track cycling’s greatest rivalry
9 days to go: Kieran Perkins’ gold medal from lane eight
8 days to go: Sally Pearson’s awesome run in London
7 days to go: Mark Spitz’ perfect seven gold medals in ’72
6 days to go: Usain Bolt torches the field in Beijing
5 days to go: Michael Klim and Ian Thorpe help smash America’s 4x100m world record like a guitar
4 days to go: Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ defiant black power salute
3 days to go: Michael Phelps – the best to ever grace the Olympics
2 days to go: Cathy Freeman delivers with the weight of a country on her back
1 day to go: Ian Thorpe – Australia’s finest Olympian