The following is the first in a series of retrospectives on the 2012 Olympics. A lot happened during the meet, and I wanted to have the chance to put the meet in the rear view before discussing it. Because talking about Denmark's medal free performance is still too raw, I'm starting with Australia. The consensus is that they had one of their worst Olympics. I wont disagree with that. But what do we make of it?
On the surface, it seems like a failure for the swimmers. They are after all backed by the most rabid swimming fans in the world and an Australian sports infrastructure that offers some fairly unique support. It seemed after their Olympic trials James Magnussen was poised to grab the swimming world by the throat. He wasn't terribly versatile, but he was good at a very sexy event, the 100 meter free.
Unfortunately, Magnussen wasn't on form in London, capsizing the Aussie hopes. If he had performed as expected you would at least be able to argue outside of Australia that the team performed as expected.
Therein lies the rub. Rather than being buoyed by their huge prominence back home, the Australian squad seemed to crumble under its weight. At first I was annoyed by the seemingly lame excuses the athletes offered. As I thought about it, I realized that they had little choice when faced with a rabid press demanding a reason why they hadn't throttled their competition.
In fact, the press I see coming out of Australia makes me happy to be minor league here in the states. At least none of our athletes have to answer serious questions about whether they are too fat heading into the Olympics, as Leisel Jones. The majority of coverage for Australian athletes seemed really negative and has been for quite sometime. Even when Ian Thorpe was the world's most dominant swimmer the Australian press seemed to find a way to cover him negatively, and I believe drive him from the sport.
Setting all of that aside, it seems that China is also diverting the attention of top Australian coaches with big fees to coach the likes of Ye Shiwen and Sun Yang. Worse yet neither of those factors seemed poised to change for Australia in the future- they only seem likely to get worse.
Although I certainly hope they can turn it around, it's looking more and more like Thorpe, Hackett etc. were the last run of Australia as a world swimming superpower.
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