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Is it just me, or were the Paralympics waaaaay better than the Olympics?

In london, media, sport on September 10, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Colour me crazy but I found the Paralympics so much more satisfying as a spectacle than the Olympics.

I’m sure the Australian medal count has something to do with that, because I am just that shallow, but the whole enterprise was just bursting with great stories and good humour.

It took me a few nights to warm to the ABC’s panel of … what were they exactly? Comedians? … well, yes, actually. But, partly because Paralympians turn out to be a funny lot, and partly because Stephanie Brantz did a fantastic job of reigning the comics in and keeping them focused, the panel turned out to be note-perfect for the event.

The commentators at the sports were top-notch — Peter Wilkins, Peter Walsh, Quentin Hull and Gerry Collins were my picks — and a new star was born in Amanda Shalala who bounced around trackside. She knew her stuff, was bright and cheerful and conducted post-race interviews the Channel 9 clowns could learn a lot from if they ever bothered to watch the ABC.

The crowds were huge — well done the Brits.

But the athletes … damn, if you can’t see how good these people are at what they do, then you need to learn how to widen your gaze.

If Matthew Cowdrey had two good arms, he’d be pissing on James Magnussen from a great height, and I’m not just talking about from a performance point of view. He conducted himself humbly and graciously and eloquently … even when faced with the unnerving prospect of talking via Skype with his parents in front of the cameras.

Jacqui ‘Frenzy’ Freney, Ellie Cole, delightful young Maddison Elliot, Kurt Fearnly — who accepted the fact that it was arch rival David Weir’s day in the sun with a smile — the Rollers, Gliders and Steelers … all these people should be household names, and they should be gracing Nutri-Grain boxes and Telstra ads as much, if not more, frankly, than their able-bodied counterparts.

These are the athletes who throw themselves into their sports with gusto, talent, and a wondrous ability to ignore the titters and giggles and embarrassment of the able-bodied world which isn’t used to the sight of a swimmer with no arms head-butting the end of the pool just to register a time.

I can think of some able-bodied swimmers who would cruise to the wall gently for the sake of their sparkly, Aussie flag-adorned nails, for crying out loud.

It’s been a cracking couple of weeks of sport and stories and winning. Thank you, Paralympians, and thank you ABC.

Farcical men’s pole vault … tanking by another name

In fail, london, oxygen thieves, sport on August 8, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Shame, pole vaulters, shame.

What a bloody farce. For those of you avoiding the Olympic dramafest, let me fill you in. The qualifying rounds of the men’s pole vault were on tonight, including defending Olympic champion, our own Steve Hooker.

The automatic qualifying height was 5.70m, but they never got there, because despite the conditions being that only 12 were to progress to the final, with 17 competitors left and nobody yet over 5.60m, the competitors, led by Hooker, decided to tell the officials that they didn’t want to continue and that everyone left should go through to the final.

The officials resisted the first time and made some clear 5.60m until there were 14 left, but then Hooker et al did it again, packed up their spikes and poles and called it a day.

Hooker, who has been in notoriously jittery form the past year or so, only made one vault, clearing 5.50m and therefore made the final without having to risk embarrassment.

I call bullshit on the whole deal.

If this isn’t tanking, what the hell is, ladies and gents??

If you’re Joe Bloggs, forking out a small fortune for tickets to the athletics and could only afford one session and particularly wanted to see the pole vault, you’d be well jacked off about now, and rightly so.

And where the hell are the officials? Out the back trying to grow a spine, I suspect. How do a group of spoiled, entitled athletes get to dictate the rules of the game?

Jane Fleming was blatting on in commentary, wondering why on earth they would want to stop vaulting.

It’s obvious, Jane. The less they have to risk failing, the happier they are, clearly.

Never mind your higher, faster, stronger bullshit. Never mind entertaining the paying public. Never mind giving the nation’s taxpayers their money’s worth. Never mind your bloody stupid Olympic ideals.

No, no. If they can get through to the Olympic final by talking their way into it instead earning it with their athletic ability, then hell, yeah, they’re going to do it.

Pathetic, guys. Just pathetic.

The Olympic swings and roundabouts

In london, sport on August 8, 2012 at 12:51 pm

There’s already been a lot written and spoken about what’s gone wrong for the Aussies at the London Olympics and no doubt there will be much wailing and gnashing in the coming weeks as the post-mortems are wheeled out.

Just today Shaun Carney, associate editor of The Age, had his say:

The point is, Australians pay for these athletes to compete, not to ”have fun” or waste their energies on Twitter and Facebook or to buckle under the pressure and then make excuses about it. This was James Magnussen’s first Olympics and it’s not hard to see how a 21-year old can be overwhelmed by it all. But coaches, managers, administrators and older teammates are there to stop that happening. Did anyone at any point pull him aside and tell him that he was not on a free ride, that hard-up families in the outer suburbs had helped him get to London through their taxes, and that if he talked the talk he had to be able to walk the walk? Not only did Australia send its best athletic talent to London, it also shipped over some of its entitlement mentality.

Hard to argue, really. Particularly in the case of the swimming team. In fact, I think it applies almost entirely, and only, to the swimming team.

I certainly haven’t noticed such entitlement and blase attitudes from, say, the Hockeyroos, the Opals, or the cyclists. And certainly not the track and field stars or the rowers.

There’s no question it takes money to buy Olympic gold medals. You can argue left, right and centre about where that money should be spent — on the elites, or the grassroots, for example — but the fact is you have to pay to find and develop athletes capable of performing on the Olympic stage.

Team GB are doing it on the back of their lottery, which generates gazillions.

It’s unfortunate that so much of the focus in the first week of the London Games was on the swimming. They performed badly, somewhat petulantly and/or without seeming to care too much.

Steph Rice and Kobe Bryant? If that’s not King and Queen Entitlement then I’ll swim backwards to China. I rest my case.

And maybe, just quietly, it’s a generational thing. Maybe this Olympiad’s crop of Australian athletes just aren’t that good. There are the exceptions of course — Sally Pearson, Anna Meares — but isn’t that always the way.

It’s 36 years since we won no gold medals at all in Montreal. Is it really reasonable to assume that after stellar performances in Sydney, Athens and Beijing, we could maintain the high-achieving level?

Ah, hype … the swimming chickens come home to roost

In fail, london, media, sport on July 30, 2012 at 5:52 pm

How sweet will the irony be if Leisel Jones wins a medal and James Magnussen wins a bucketload of nothing?

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Mr Magnussen, but it does seem somewhat delicious to my twisted mind that the much-maligned Ms Jones could end up on the podium in the women’s 100m breaststroke in a week where she’s been well-bucketed for being out of shape, while the Mighty Maggie Missile leads the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay team to a tepid 4th place.

You could see it coming in the heat swim, frankly, for anyone who cared to look with any degree of dispassion.

Unlike Giaan Rooney and Grant Hackett, who were quick with the ‘wow, you were cruising, really saving yourself for the final’ routine, I watched the heat and thought, ‘wow, that was lucky, they were shit for 95% of that race’.

Magnussen switched on for the last 50m and came over the top to win the heat for the Aussies, but until then they were languishing in fourth or fifth for most of the race.

Not the look the supposed favourites should have been aiming for, I suspect.

And then there was Stephanie Rice, who sounded like she didn’t really expect too much of herself this time around, and promptly lived up to her expectations by finishing seventh.

After calmly saying she wasn’t as fit as she was in Beijing — yes, we know about the shoulder, but surgery was almost 9 months ago — she then said if she won a medal at ‘this meet’ she’d be happy.

‘This meet’? Like it’s just another meet in the endless round of meaningless competitions. It’s the Olympics, Steph. My tax dollars at work. If you can’t get fired up for that, then why bother?

And then there’s Leisel. Did you see her poolside interview? She might as well have just said fuck you all, and thanks for the motivation.

Awesome. Go the Jones girl.

Trying to find that Olympic spark

In london, sport, video on July 26, 2012 at 1:48 pm

I think my Olympic spark went out about half an hour after Cathy Freeman won the 400m gold in Sydney. Because, let’s face it, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

I had spent the Sydney Games glued to a computer at work. My main job for the Games was to be the first line of selection for photographs. And there was a shitload of photographs. Worst of all, my back was to the television so a lot of the Sydney Games went by me in auditory moments. And still photos. Thousands and thousands of still photos.

And then Ms Freeman pulled us all up out of our chairs for a couple of minutes. And that was me done.

In my sports reporting days I interviewed Cathy when she was still a high school student at Kooralbyn International in the Gold Coast hinterland.

Talking with her coach while Cathy ran a 400m it was obvious then she was good. I’m not saying for a moment that I thought ‘that girl’s going to win an Olympic gold medal one day’ … but I certainly remember thinking ‘wow, she just glides over the ground’ … and she did. Effortless.

Athens seemed to pass me by … not sure what I was doing. Working, probably. And I actively boycotted Beijing … HUMAN RIGHTS, don’tcha know.

So … London. I love London. It’s my town. But I’m struggling to get worked up about the Olympics, and I can’t work out if that’s my natural cynicism and I’ll be won over by the excitement as things unfold. Or if I’m letting my tingly spidey senses convince me that something bad is coming.

I don’t even want to tempt the universe by enunciating that in any more detail.

Dear Leisel Jones …

In feminism, london, media, sport on July 25, 2012 at 1:22 pm

UPDATE: Wrote this just in time to be quoted directly on Carol Duncan’s story on ABC Newcastle. Thanks Carol, and for the attribution and the link to the blog. You rock!! YAY!!

As I sit here, gnawing on my fourth deep fried chicken wing for the day and contemplating a pack of Chocolate Wheatens for dessert, I feel I should weigh in (sorry!) on the brouhaha that emerged along with the above photo of you at training in London overnight.

Now, given that I weigh about a billion kilos and would struggle to rise from the bottom to the top of the pool, let alone plough my way along it several times, I feel I should tell you that, personally, I would kill for your thighs. The media, including a bunch of pundits who’ve probably never pulled on a Speedo, would have us believe that you’re overweight and in no shape to be swimming at the Olympics.

Oh, they’ll say it nicely … ‘To the untrained eye she doesn’t look like a typical elite athlete’ said Tory Maguire on The Punch today. All while trying to tell us the kerfuffle isn’t about body image but about whether an elite athlete is ready to represent their country while subsidised by the Australian taxpayer’s hard-earned.

Codswallop. Of course it’s about body image. It’s why female swimmers get buckets of sponsorship and female shotputters don’t.

Bollocks to that.

Leisel, you’re in London because you swam fast enough to qualify. Your coach has said you need to shave a couple of seconds off your times to be competitive and I’m sure you’re doing what you have to do to get that work done in the week or so left before you swim in anger.

I don’t give a rat’s arse what you look like doing it.

Because I know one thing — the media and punditry will suddenly not give a damn about the size of your thighs or the thickness of your waist if you end up on the podium, or break a record.

And right there is the pure hypocrisy of this debate.

Pay no attention to it, Leisel. Give it your best shot.

A taste of my taste

In london on April 10, 2012 at 12:13 am

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