When I think of the greatest female athlete of all time, names like Serena Williams, Billie Jean King, Steffi Graf, Cathy Freeman and Jacqueline Joyner-Kersee come to mind.
Madeline Groves is no ordinary 21-year-old. Yesterday, she swam the race of a lifetime to finish second in the final of the 200 metres butterfly at the Olympics, just 0.03 seconds behind Spaniard Mireia Belmonte.
But don’t tell Groves she ‘only’ came second.
The euphoria in her post-race interview made it clear that she couldn’t have been happier with her performance, a personal best.
If Groves had found 0.03 seconds, her swim would have been remembered for decades as a triumph of the underdog, a victory nobody saw coming.
Instead, it feels her legacy will be the ‘almost girl’, the one who produced a sensational swim in the Olympics, but didn’t quite get gold. Silver is terrific, but gold is better.
Groves lacks the public profile of a James Magnussen or an Emily Seebohm. They will at least be remembered for their failure to live up to expectation in London.
Australian sporting history has no place for Groves’ second place in Rio. It will be overshadowed by the victory of Kyle Chalmers and Mack Horton, and the failure of Seebohm and McEvoy, should they not live up to their favourites tag by the end of the meet.
Winning is the only rhetoric that exists in dialogue surrounding swimming in Australia. It is all about winning or a failure to win. Silver doesn’t figure into this – just ask Alicia Coutts, she won five medals in the ‘failure’ of London.
As a nation, Australia needs to shift away from gold medal performances as a marker of success, and instead examine results in their broader contexts.
Yes, Maddie Groves ‘only’ got silver, but a year ago she was an unknown swimmer, who has risen from ninth at the 2015 world championships to silver at the Olympics.
If that isn’t an achievement to be proud of for a nation, I don’t know what is.