Lessons in world power via the lilting voice of Lucinda the lucid
Olympic highlight ... Zara Phillips, granddaughter of the Queen, in the cross country equestrian event. Photo: Pat Scala
By far the most lucid and entertaining member of the Australian Olympic broadcasting team is not Australian. She is an import, Lucinda Green, MBE, daughter of the late Major-General George Prior-Palmer and Lady Doreen Hersey Hope. Her name is Green thanks to once having been married to an Australian. She is a former multiple world and European champion and sounds exactly as you would expect the grand-daughter of a viceroy of India would sound.
Ms Green is not just superbly knowledgeable about her sport but is encyclopaedic about the human condition in the equestrian world. She seamlessly interweaves the private and competitive lives of the Olympians - births, deaths, marriages, divorces, separations, tragedies and triumphs - with an acute acumen about her sport, often predicting trouble before it happens. After an Australian rider, Lucinda Fredericks, was unable to steer her horse through a narrow gate in the cross country, Green observed: ''She was riding with a two-ring bit, which is a devil for turning.''
She was the perfect person to record one of the highlights of the Olympics, when Zara Phillips, grand-daughter of the Queen, daughter of Princess Anne (herself a former Olympic equestrian), rode superbly and bravely in the cross country to help put her country into medal contention. It was one of the few highlights for the Great Britain team thus far, which is suffering from the seemingly incurable disease among the English media of bragging before the event. Expectations are not being met.
Australia is no better off, though under less pressure than the hosts. At least the expectations were built on the foundation of one of the more extraordinary sustained performances at the Olympics for a mid-level nation. Australia finished fifth in the medal count in Beijing in 2008, fourth in Athens in 2004, fourth in Sydney in 2000, fifth in Atlanta in 1996 and ninth in Barcelona in 1992. Only the US, China, Russia and Germany won more than Australia's 221 medals over the five previous Olympics. A tremendous run.
Having also finished in the top 10 in the weighted medal count in Helsinki (1952), Melbourne (1956, third), Rome (1960), Tokyo (1964), Mexico City (1968), Munich (1972) and Los Angeles (1984), Australia ranks in the top 10 in all games of the modern era.
Australia has performed so far ahead of Great Britain (140 medals) in the past 20 years that the British government followed the Australian sports development model and poured lottery funds into sport. The result was a brilliant fourth in Beijing, just ahead of Australia, which was duly and widely noted and treated as the springboard for triumph in London 2012.
Reality has intervened. After the first 50 events, Britain had not won a single gold, and had only four medals. The drought will end but will have taken a long time.
Australians are also suffering from an assumption of glory that has not been consummated. At the time of writing, Australia sat outside the top 10 for the first time in 20 years with many of our best medal chances already come and gone.
For the first time Australia is looking up the medal table at four Asian nations. The red flag of China and its sombre national anthem, The March of the Volunteers, have become fixtures at medal ceremonies. Australia also trails Japan, South Korea and even (a temporary quirk) North Korea.
The economic weight of the East Asian middle class is permeating the world's biggest sporting stage. The strongest element in Australia's Olympic contingent, the swimming team, has seen athletes from China, Japan and South Korea win 14 medals to Australia's six. Commentators expressed shock when they found a Vietnamese crew at the rowing. In the past 30 years, Asia's share of global gross domestic product has surged from 18 per cent to almost 30 per cent, according to the Asian Development Bank, and this economic revolution has seen the world's economic centre of gravity shift from the north Atlantic to the north Pacific.
Such a shift in the economic tectonic plates must lead to a shift in social weight. Australians are already acclimatised to China and the Chinese as a major market and major social and political influence. Chinese visitors are perceived as the salvation of the stressed Australian tourism industry.
London, the well spring of Australia's past, is providing a pointer to our future. Australians will need to acclimatise to a future in the Olympics where wealthy Asian nations seek to buy the glory of Olympic metal with much deeper pockets than our own.
It's been enjoyable listening to Lucinda Green watch this social evolution from the rarefied perch of the equestrian events. She described with enjoyment the emergence of the Japanese team in the dressage, then wryly observed the same team come unstuck in the cross-country. ''I don't want to be shortist or racist,'' she said, then proceeded to point out that you do need long legs to grip horses in the arduous conditions of the cross country event. Two Australians fell during the cross-country, along with Australia's medal chances, even with long legs.
She also noted of a rider from Thailand, Nina Ligon, in the cross-country: ''She can afford to buy good horses, but its another thing to be able to ride them, and she can.''
Even on the equestrian courses, the new Asia is rising.