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So we're not an Olympic superpower. Who cares?

Date

Mark Juddery

Are you tired of the Olympics yet? It would have been OK back in 2000, 2004 or 2008, when we were getting gold almost every day in the first (swimming) week, but last week would probably be dubbed our ''Worst. Olympics. Ever'' by people who can't remember anything before the last three Olympics. Of course, we haven't been doing nearly as badly as in Montreal in 1976, when we won no gold medals, none whatsoever, plus only one silver and a few bronze. (For the record, Canada, the host nation, also went gold-free, so we didn't suffer alone.)

It might have seemed disastrous at the time, but this setback made us more resolute. We became less arrogant, less self-centred, yet more determined. It would be great to have a repeat of this outstanding result. Sadly, our chances of another Montreal were ruined on day one, when the 4x100 women's freestyle team accidentally won gold. Fortunately, we still had many things going wrong. It might yet become our most disappointing Olympics since 1976.

Personally, I have no recollection of the 1976 Olympics. I remember Sydney 2000, of course. I was a volunteer for that event, one of those people who wore bright clothes and was given unlimited free train travel, so what's not to like? Within three years, my volunteers' jacket had been stolen in Indonesia, which is a shame because I understand they sold well on eBay. I stopped wearing the polo shirts some time ago, as they were wearing out.

As a volunteer, I worked as a media official, ensuring that the visiting sports correspondents knew what they were doing. For this task, I was given a team of five high-school students, whose main job was to disappear whenever they were needed. They probably now have careers in the police force. Whenever I actually saw them, however, they were a good bunch of kids. One of them became very excited when his older sister was in the audience, and as she could see him, he actually stayed in the media section during the entire mountain cycling race that day (which we mainly saw on a video screen, making it unclear why any of us were there in the first place).

When not dealing with journalists, this guy spent most of his time on the phone to his sister. At one stage, he asked me to wave in her direction, which was quite a distance away. ''This is my boss!'' he called into the phone, which was funny because I'd never seen myself as anyone's ''boss''. So at least I achieved something at the Olympics.

Flash forward to London 2012 (just to give this column some kind of relevance). I could have been hired again. I've frequently written speeches and official responses for senior government officials, so I could have helped in the media conferences, writing responses like:

The Aussie 4x100 freestyle team, on losing the final: ''Why did we lose? Because, today, three teams were faster than us. Competition is strong, which can only be a good thing. We congratulate the French team for that amazing victory, and look forward to racing them again. Now shove off!'' (OK, maybe not that last bit.)

Michael Phelps, on being called ''the greatest Olympian ever'' because he had the most medals: ''Now hold on! [Laugh wryly.] That's very kind of you, but I'm fortunate enough to be a swimmer. Had I been, say, a basketballer, I would have worked just as hard, but I could only have won one medal per Olympics.''

Unlike Sydney, when our swimmers won five gold medals and ensured that Australia was number one on the medals tally (only for the first two days, but why split hairs?), things haven't been going as well as expected. Perhaps that's the problem: we've done so well in the past few years that we expect too much, acting with outrage when our athletes don't blitz the field.

Think of those comments on the internet, in which people took offence at the personal affront of our 4x100 men's relay team not winning a medal. That's taxpayers' money down the drain, yada yada yada. It's just as well these Games aren't in Australia, or these guys would have been chased through the streets by angry mobs.

When Cathy Freeman won silver in Atlanta back in 1996, we were buzzed-out, because we didn't often win on the track. Compare that to the ''agony'' of James Magnussen winning silver last week (by just 0.01 of a second; technology is too damn precise). Soon it might hit us: it's not 2000 any more. We won't get 16 gold medals from London. Experts warned us years ago that this would happen, but we refused to believe it.

So we're no longer an Olympic superpower, which isn't so bad. From now on, think of how much more joy it will be whenever we DO win. When we win our next gold medal, it will be like 1992 all over again.

Besides, we're no longer saying ''Aussie Aussie Aussie oi, oi, oi'' so much. No doubt the world is grateful.

■ Talk to me on mail@markjuddery.com, or tweet me at @markjuddery.

 

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