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Who’s next? Australian Olympians have been made to feel their pain

Whether hounding Stephanie Rice or shaming James Magnussen, the judgemental tendencies of the Australian media do our athletes no favours, writes Samantha Wright

James Magnussen suffered heartbreak, losing the men’s 100m freestyle by 0.01 seconds. Source: Yahoo Sport
James Magnussen suffered heartbreak, losing the men’s 100m freestyle by 0.01 seconds. Source: Yahoo Sport

Would it be too far a stretch to say the London Games have accelerated the demise in quality Australian journalism?

Just one week into the games, I can report on the following. Leisel Jones is overweight, Stephanie Rice has let us down, the Australian team remains notorious within the Olympic village for their frivolous partying, and contention continues to stir over Nick D’Arcy’s idiotic behaviour. Considering journalists have four years to plan their Olympic coverage, it is pathetic that these trivialities have commanded such great attention.

Instead of coverage that fosters national pride, and unity between the Australian athletes and those of us watching from behind the telly, it would appear the greatest media emphasis this Olympics has been the disappointing performance of our athletes.

Heaven help young Stephanie Rice, clocking in at 6th place for the 400-metre individual-medley. Having lost both her Olympic crown and event record, Rice struggled to conceal her distress on national television:

“More than anything, I hope I haven’t let anyone down,” she said.

That evening, the Herald Sun published an article with the title ‘At least she was satisfied with trying to overcome her injury-plagued preparation’. This was a patronising attempt to frame Rice’s performance as marginally acceptable, given how her injury rehabilitation had impeded her training.

Alarm bells should be going off here. It would appear as though our journalists and media authorities have lost sight of what the Olympics games are all about. Qualifying for the Games should be a well-respected achievement in the minds of us all.

Chastised by the media for her supposed weight gain, Leisel Jones was heavily criticised before even entering the pool. Source: The Australian

If our athletes reach the podium in any given event, then of course this should be celebrated. But in the absence of such phenomenal achievement, our media should not encourage public condemnation and shame toward these individuals.

Mateship and national pride are supposedly organic to us Australians, the backbone of our society. Why then can we treat our athletes with such disrespect? To be competing in the Olympic Games is a stupendous achievement, and this achievement should stand alone.

The real problem is that we don’t see athletes as merely sporting greats. We see them as national icons, as role models, and as figures that should encapsulate what it means to be Australian.

We have created a rigid, idealistic mold in which we expect athletes to fit. Such explains how Ms Rice’s unexpected 400IM loss could be framed by the media as letting down her country.

Similarly, the Aussie men in the 4×100-metre freestyle relay were tipped to bring home gold this Olympics. Yet, on 30 July, when the boys dived into the pool, they were having an off day. Apparently athletes aren’t allowed to have off days. They were slammed by Australian journalists as being a national disappointment.

An article published by The Australian seemed to doubt there was any justification as to why our boys came fourth, its headline proclaiming: “Shocked Australian men’s 4x100m freestyle relay team struggles to explain loss”.

Lisa Curry, three times Olympian, spoke to ABC Local Radio with comment on the Australian men’s relay team result. She said the media put a lot of pressure on them.

“I seriously think they put too much pressure on themselves,” Ms Curry said.

She recognised that although our male team “wouldn’t have in their wildest dreams thought they’d get fourth place,” it is important to not lose sight of what the Olympic Games are all about: the excitement, the surprise, and the sharing of talent from across the globe.

Just because our athletes don’t achieve a couple of the results they’ve been striving for doesn’t allow all of us lazy buggers to start criticising them. Nor does it mean that disappointing results should overshadow  the positive achievements.

There are some remarkably uplifting and inspiring stories emerging out of this Olympic Games: it would be a shame if they too were drowned out.