Faster, Higher, Stronger, But Make Sure You Bring Home a Medal!

Last week the Australian Olympic Committee announced that Australia is set to double its medal haul from the London Olympic Games. A very bold statement a year out from the Olympic Games in Rio.

The AOC’s benchmark study predicts 13 gold medals will be won by Australia at the 2016 Rio Olympics, up from a disappointing seven that were won in 2012. Australia’s haul at the London Olympics was the nation’s worst since Barcelona in 1992.

This time around a total of 37 medals are tipped to be won by Australians, which is made up of an additional 14 silver and 10 bronze medals.

It is believed that such a return would place Australia equal seventh on the medal winners league table, two gold medals below Germany and France, who are both predicted to win 15.

The Study predicts that China will be the overall Champion after finishing second on the medal tally to the USA at the London Games. China are expected to win 97 medals, including 39 gold, while the USA (84 medals, 35 gold) and Russia (69 medals, 25 gold) are well ahead of all other nations.

These Medal predictions are based on results from the most recent international benchmark competitions; which again seems bold with just under a year to go and many athletes looking to peak in the next nine months.

Australia believes its swimmers will rebound from their lowly showing in London and claim seven gold medals in Rio, up from the solitary win by the women’s 4×100-metre freestyle relay team. One thing is for sure they are likely to end up with more than one, whether they end up with seven may be optimistic.

Cycling is expected to prove to be Australia’s next best event, with eight medals predicted, including three gold. According to the study Gold medals are also expected for Australia in rowing, sailing and men’s hockey; the latter would seem very likely with Australia ranked number one and having taken out all the major tournaments globally, but the team had done the same leading up to London, only to lose in the semi-finals and had to settle for bronze.

One has to ask what merit there is in making such bold statements so far out from the Olympic games. Is this some form of reporting to the Government to satisfy the funding allocations?

It seems incredibly unfair on all of the athletes to have such expectations foisted on them. Many will already have that personal expectation, but to then publicly come out and tell the nation that we are expected to win these events seems to be adding unnecessary pressure.

Some may say this is being cynical, but when one considers that the AOC  admit that they are looking to arrest the slide down the medal tally table that has been ongoing since Sydney 2000, maybe not.

Chef de mission Kitty Chiller was last week quoted as saying in relation to stopping the dip in Australia’s medal tally “To do that we need a far greater spread of medals across the sports, we won medals in 13 disciplines in London and we have won medals in 13 disciplines again in 2015. We need medals in 20 disciplines in Rio which I think is realistic. The team sports, hockey, basketball, water polo and rugby sevens are in good shape and definite medal chances in both men’s and women’s events.”

Athletes’ funding was controversially altered post the London Olympic games. The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) set up “Australia’s Winning Edge” and athletes from sports/disciplines/teams where categorised by the ASC into  four categories, Foundation, Prospective, Emerging or National and Iconic and funding was determined on the category and the athlete, or team’s ability to win a medal at the Rio Olympics. If your sport was assessed as unlikely to medal in some cases zero funding was allocated.

The predictions made by the AOC and the way the funding was allocated shows that the Olympic Games are no longer about the honour of qualifying and representing your country at one of the most special sporting events. It is now very much a business, whereby the investors, the Government, wants to see a definite return on that investment.

If you think this is bad in Australia then take a look at South Africa where their men’s and women’s hockey teams both qualified to earn the right to represent South Africa at the Olympic Games, as did their Women’s Sevens Rugby team, but the South African Olympic Committee turned down the invitation and told the IOC that they would not be taking up the positions their athletes had won on merit.

The modern day founder of the Olympic Games Baron Pierre de Coubertin must be spinning in his grave like a tornado. The whole ethos on which the Olympic Games was founded has been thrown out of the window, and it is sad.

It was de Coubertin who said “For each individual, sport is a possible source for inner improvement.” That was one of the things  that made the Olympic Games special, the fact that many an underdog managed to achieve the qualifying time, jump etcetera to see him take his place at what is one of the greatest sporting events on the planet, and that was an achievement in itself. When one looked at the facilities or investment in sport in some countries, compared to the super powers, the achievements of some individuals were incredible.

Many athletes knew that they may never win gold, but they had achieved a goal by being at the games. Now they had nothing to lose. Some surprised even themselves and achieved more than they expected. For others it was simply being a part of such an event, representing their nation. We should be equally proud of these athletes, as much as those who win medals. Sadly it appears that this is no longer the case. One cannot help feeling that the Olympic games will be poorer for the attitudes taken by the policy makers.

What would be interesting is whether if these goals, which are now in the public domain, are not achieved will the people at the Australian Sports Commission who came up with the Winning Edge Policy lose their jobs? Will those who decided which sports deserved funding based purely on the guarantee of a medal, lose their job if medals are not won? Athletes lost funding so why should we support these people who have such a profound effect on our athletes and their lives, and who have now saddled them with even more pressure by announcing how many medals and what colour are expected in certain events?

Hopefully by the time the Olympic flame is lit many will have forgotten these predictions and we can simply celebrate every single person who has earned the right to represent Australia.

It is worth remembering another quote from Baron de Coubertin “The Olympic Games were created for the exhaltation of the individual athlete,” based on recent events one could add, ‘not governments or administrators.’ It is time the games returned to being about just the athletes.

Faster, Higher, Stronger, But Make Sure You Bring Home a Medal!

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