This week we celebrate exactly 20 years since the Sydney Paralympics. The well-known story is the incredible success of this momentous international event, the unknown story is that the Paralympic Games almost did not happen.
Did the Australian swimming team meet and live up to their expectations and those of the Australian public at the Rio Olympics?
To be brutally honest you would have to say no.
Admittedly the expectations placed on them were extremely high and possibly unrealistic. This brings us to the question was the preparation for Rio what it should have been?
The timing of the selection trials – five months before the Rio Olympics – was opposed to Australia’s arch nemesis the USA who held their trials five weeks before Rio is in definite need of a review.
You only have to look at the disparity in the medals won between the two countries to see that Australia underachieved with the USA winning 16 gold and 33 in total as opposed to Australia who won just three gold and ten medals in total.
Sure the U S A had two outstanding Champions in Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, but Australia had eight swimmers who had the world’s best times in their events in the lead up to Rio. Let’s not sugar coat it. For whatever reason, some high-profile swimmers just didn’t perform up to scratch.
Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have had the trials much closer to Rio so that the swimmers would have been on an upward spiral in their training? Or is it all about when they should taper off in their training leading up to a major competition?
The culture and camaraderie within the Australian team appeared to be much improved from the Olympics in London 2012. The mentoring of the younger swimmers by past champions such as Michael Klim was a great innovation, but at the end of the day the harsh reality is that the barometer of true success at an Olympic Games is measured by how many medals a country wins – in particular gold.
Make no mistake about it each and every athlete who represented Australia at Rio did so with pride and passion. Just by making the Australian Olympic team they achieved something that 99.9 per cent of us mere mortals will never achieve.
Moving forward it can only be hoped that the Australian Olympic Committee will have a comprehensive review across all sports to determine what, if any, modifications need to be made to future teams representing Australia. This is at not only the Olympics, but also the Commonwealth Games, to ensure that athletes are given every conceivable opportunity to be in peak physical and mental condition .
Maybe more emphasis needs to be placed on having sports psychologists and nutritionists more readily available and not over committing our leading athletes too much so that they can better handle the pressure and weight of expectation and perform at their optimum level.