Two great wins to open the final phase of qualifying

08 September 2016

Australia could not have hoped for a better start to the final phase of World Cup
qualifying for Russia 2018 with two great wins. The first a 2-0 win over Iraq in Perth last week and then a 1-0 win in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday night.

The win over the UAE was particularly satisfying, with the UAE in good form after a 2-1 win in Japan in its first match and temperatures in Abu Dhabi in the mid 30s. It was a showcase of the future of Asian football when teams like the UAE won’t sit back and pounce on Australian mistakes. They will know that with points on the line at home, they must try to assert some authority, and this is where Australia excelled. Despite the tenacity and proficiency of the UAE, Australia had the game in complete control, forcing the UAE to chase for long periods, and then breaking forward whenever possible.

From the UAE’s perspective, they never relented either, and held Australia at 0-0 until the 75th minute when a sublime cross from Brad Smith was met on the volley by Tim Cahill. It was one of those magical moments in football when high pressure situation was released with an act of individual brilliance. That it was Cahill on the end of it, who’d just arrive on the field, was poetic for it further enhanced his mercurial qualities of scoring when Australia really needs it. As the Socceroo Realm has stated previously, if he belonged to any other country, he’d be the most annoying player ever. That Japan in Melbourne is Australia’s next home match is also poetic in that they are an opposition to which Cahill has done the most damage. Five days prior, Australia is away to Saudi Arabia, who have also won their first two games.

Tim Cahill scores the winner against UAE in Asian World Cup qualifier 2016-09-06

It’s all good signs after two difficult preparation games against Greece in June. A 1-0 win was followed by a 2-1 loss as Australia’s style to constantly pressure Asian teams was fully exploited by Greece, especially in that second game, where Greece really dominated the key moments. It’s a tactic Asian teams traditionally use except, this time, Greece had the strike power to finish us off. They pounced on Australian forays forward to the point Australia looked clueless, particularly barely able to penetrate when going forward. Much credit therefore to coach Ange Postecoglou that a more mature and balance approached was brought, particularly against the UAE.

Elsewhere in the group, Japan rebounded to win in Thailand, while UAE won their first match and Iraq and Thailand remain winless. With six teams in the group this time, up from 5 for 2014, statistically it will be much harder to qualify. While we hope for at least a draw in Saudi Arabia, that match against Japan be pivotal, both in terms of gaining points and to further knock them down the table. A loss will suddenly neutralise that promising start. That may not be too bad anyway, as the point of being in Asia is for a tough and fair challenge. For the good of Asia, it needs to be that way too. Mark Bosnich on Fox Sports was suddenly talking about wrapping it up with 2-3 games to go. First, that’s disrespectful to our opponents and, second, that would be boring. Without the journey, you can’t savour the success.

Results

01/09 Australia 2 (Luongo 58′, Juric 64′) – Iraq 0
06/09 UAE 0 – Australia 1 (Cahill 75′)

Match report, highlights and interviews

Rio 2016 Review – The Great Australian Choke

22 August 2016

“I don’t need a gold medal for self worth.”

“It’s not about winning, it’s about trying to win.”

“It’s a racing meet; times don’t mean much.”

With quotes like these, respectively from Cate Campbell, Bronte Campbell and Mitch Larkin, is it any wonder Australia suffered yet another disaster in the pool? It was so predictable that you could almost write the script. Big egos, a nonchalant attitude, and absurd excuses. The latter quote is one in perpetual use, as far back as double world champion Samantha Riley using it to explain her two failures at the Atlanta Olympics of 1996. The folly of it and all the other excuses is exposed when you understand that swimmers live and breath by times. They are obsessed by them, and personal bests. The opposite is actually true for them: results don’t matter, times do. All training is geared around achieving a PB, with the key focus being to deliver it in an Olympic final. We even saw Australian swimmers ecstatic at doing a PBs in an Olympic final. Unfortunately, they were the ones finishing fifth. For the favourites, it was implosion after implosion.

Australia's Chloe Esposito crosses the line to win the modern pentathlon at Rio 2016The surprise gold, the most emotional gold, the best gold of all. Australia’s Chloe Esposito crosses the line to win the modern pentathlon at Rio 2016. Image: Getty Images

With the three aforementioned swimmers, also add Emily Seebohm and Cameron McEvoy to the hit parade of inglorious failures. Seebohm – the double world champion at backstroke – was so abominable she finished seventh in the 100 and failed to even reach the 200 final. She’s probably more a case of a training error – not timing her taper correctly. As for McEvoy, apparently he got stage fright – something at the Australian trials he even warned the public was a possibility for any Olympic favourite. Talk about the proverbial chicken coming home to roost. If not for the upset win of Kyle Chalmers in the 100 freestyle, and Mack Horton’s narrow win the 400 freestyle, it could have been even worse.

There’s a bigger problem at play here: the mindset. Every single swimmer responded the same way at post race interviews. All tried to look for positives from their defeats, like just being in the final, or being at the Games themselves, that was success in itself. The Campbell sisters used the fact of two sisters being in an Olympic final as a means to extract something positive from their combined disaster. This is not a coincidence; they are schooled to react this way. Except, you only need watch their body language to realise it’s one big charade. It’s especially glaring if you watch those interviews with the sound muted. There’s no way anyone could align their words with the body language. Cate Campbell was clearly shell-shocked, while Larkin was constantly battling his instinct to express disappointment and his will to suppress it.

Who’s to blame? It’s the sports psychologists and so-called mentors. One of the losing swimmers attributed this to Leisel Jones: “If you’re not complete without a gold medal, you won’t be complete with one”. Note that Jones is Australia’s worst choker and biggest letdown in Australian Olympic history. Of the eight individual races she contested, she lost seven. That fact alone should disqualify her from any such mentoring role. At the very least, the swimmers should not be using her for inspiration. My vague recollection is the quote is actually from surfer Layne Beachley. That would be even worst, coming from someone in a tinpot sport of her time like women’s surfing. Regardless of the source, it’s clear the substance of that quote is embedded, because Cate Campbell paraphrased it.

Deep down, they do need a gold medal for self worth. Or, at least, for self vindication. They don’t spend 20 hours a week looking at a black line, winning world championships, breaking world records, leading the world by a whopping margin, and go to an Olympics and think “I don’t really need this”. It’s this conflict between their competitive fibre and the garbage from the sports psychologists that’s creating all the problems. They enter the pool deck and realise their dream is now in front of them. Countering that there’s voices in their head telling them it all doesn’t matter. It throws them off their concentration and race-plan, and reduces them to a physical and psychological wreck when they should be at their most confident and calm. In typical Australian fashion, their response to handling pressure is to bully the opposition. They always go out too hard rather than remain focused and be respectful of the task at hand. It’s no coincidence that the favourites all flopped and those swimming PBs came from the lower ranked swimmers. Swimmers from other nations were swimming PBs too. While you can pick out one or two of them that did fail, the difference is it was only one or two. With Australia it’s a pandemic within the team. It’s been enduring for past 20 years too.

Another problem is the timing of the selection trials. USA has theirs around 5 weeks before the Olympics whereas Australia’s is around 5 months. Ignore comments, particularly from former swimmers and commentators, that it works for us. That’s the typical Australian ego that likes to think it leads the world in everything. It doesn’t. Not when one Hungarian can win the same amount of gold medals as your entire team. After successive debacles, which includes the “successful Olympic meets” that still produced gold medals below benchmarks, it’s an unequivocal failure. It’s not even about gold medals. It’s about times, personal bests. Not enough swimmers produce them when it counts. They all can’t be suffering mental breakdowns or stage fright. It’s physical – as with Emily Seebohm. Remember, this is a 20 year embedded problem, not just the past two Olympics. Then consider the time lag means more chance of carrying an ill, injured or out of form swimmer to the Games. Conversely, late bloomers and those injured during trials miss selection. On a strategic level, Australia’s early trials also mean we lay a marker for the world to challenge, and beat.

The main concern with the American system of trials so close to a major event is the double taper. A taper is when athletes ease off after a period of hard training just prior to an event to re-energise the muscles ready to compete at peak performance. As a triathlete many moons ago and in many bodies ago, I can attest it’s a wonderful feeling to race after taper. You feel like superman and seem to have an endless supply of energy and power. Typically the taper period is about a week before an event. This will vary between sports, event and athlete, as will the training block needed just prior. For some, a few weeks won’t be enough, and if they can’t master the double taper, then it’s a decision to set for trials and hold form for the Olympics or set for the Olympics and rely on natural ability and the existing training base to qualify. Offsetting that is American swimmers don’t have to peak twice a year. Asking our swimmers to go through a hard training regime twice could be wearing down their bodies. Double-peak vs double-taper, you be the judge.

The USA’s continued domination on the world stage shows their system works. After an even world championships last year between the USA and Australia, it was a pummelling at the Olympics with the USA winning 16 gold to Australia’s 3. While you can argue they have a huge talent pool, and Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, you can’t deny that those athletes that qualify are consistently successful at the Games. There’s also that Hungarian. Katinka Hosszu won 3 gold medals by herself, and it would have been 4 if not for the USA’s Madeline Dirado swimming a massive PB to just win the 200 backstroke. Our stars, like even Ian Thorpe in the 200 freestyle at Sydney, will more often flop.

Even more devastating with the USA is those swimmers that haven’t tapered for trials will swim much faster at the Games once they have tapered. In contrast, ours consistently swim slower times than trials. 73% of them did, according to former head coach Brian Sutton. We went into 9 individual events with the fastest time of the year, which included 7 world championship holders and a world record holder, and left with one victory. That was Mack Horton. Madeline Groves can’t be faulted either, swimming a PB in the 200 fly when second by a whisker. Kyle Chalmers’ win was compensation – and relief – for Cameron McEvoy’s failure in the 100 freestyle. The third gold was the women’s 4×100 relay – who were favoured. So it’s 3 gold from 10 events at a 30% return. In that sense, Rio was far worse than the “disaster” of London where it was 1 from 2 at a 50% return.

There were also some strange strategic decisions made in the 4×200 freestyle relays. Emma McKeon, who rebounded with a bronze in a hot 200m freestyle field after folding in the 100m butterfly, was dropped for the women’s 4×200. Australia missed gold by just under two seconds, so would she have been two seconds faster than the fourth best swimmer? Same in men’s event, where McEvoy was dropped, seemingly to concentrate on the 100m. That backfired spectacularly with Australia just inches back in fourth from a silver and McEvoy imploding in his race anyway (thankfully Chalmers was there to clean up the mess). In hindsight, this strategy for them to focus on fewer events only increases the pressure. McEvoy surely would have enjoyed the relay swim, and grabbing a medal would have eased pressure and boosted confidence for his individual race. Let’s look to the USA again, or even Hosszu from Hungary. They have no problems with heavy programs and will even swim twice in the one evening.

The reason the the team received so much criticism was because Olympic sports receive so much of taxpayer money. This is no criticism of the funding. After all, the $332 million over four years is peanuts compared to the $1000 million we pay every single month on our national debt, and Australian success at the Games boosts national morale. The last thing we want is the return to the old days of barely any gold. It’s merely about return on investment, and the public has a right to expect a minimum standard of performing to your optimum. Of that $332m most went to swimming ($37.9m), cycling (34.1), rowing (32.4), sailing (29), hockey (28.6) and athletics (27.9). Also implemented was the “Winning Edge” program, where funds are directed to those at the top – those sports likely to win gold. Reputedly it’s a copy of Great Britain’s successful program that saw them win 29 gold in London and another 27 in Rio. Australia is at 8 after four years of a 10 year plan, so the “copy” aspect obviously still needs more work, even if Britain’s budget is much higher at 274.5 GBP (about 475m AUD). It’s worthwhile continuing with it until at least Tokyo 2020 before any review.

REVIEW OF SPORTS

Here’s a breakdown of the success of all sports at Rio with the amount in millions invested.

Swimming

$37.9m – 3 Gold, 4 Silver, 3 Bronze

Running through the events…

Men 100f – Cameron McEvoy: According to the head coach, he got “stage fright”, and finished 7th at 1 second slower than his best. Even within half a second of his best would have seen him win gold. When Kyle Chalmers came through and won, you could really sense the excitement mixed with relief on the faces of the coaches. Like most of us, they would have been watching McEvoy, exasperated at yet another impending Australian failure, only to catch a glimpse of Chalmers in the last metres surging through for the win.

Men 400f – Mack Horton: Came into Rio with the world’s fastest time of the year, and won gold, just pipping Sun Yang. Horton caused the biggest attention outside the pool with his criticism of Sun’s drugs record. The Chinese claimed the drugs were for angina and were later removed from the banned list. Interestingly, the Australian Olympic Committee encouraged Horton to speak up and hog attention in contradiction with their “One Team” philosophy. Ask Nick Kyrgios about that philosophy and he’ll say it’s only when it suits them, is politically correct or is in their own sanctimonious favour. Anything remotely controversial coming from the mouths of athletes and the speech police are out in force.

Men 100b – Mitch Larkin: Went out too hard, being just in front of world record pace, faded to fourth at .3 off his PB. Hitting is PB would have been good enough for silver only.

Men 200b – Mitch Larkin: Similar to his 100, except improved to silver, and cost himself gold by swimming .8 below his PB. He was thankful merely for the medal at this stage, expressing an “at least it’s something” attitude.

Women 50f – Cate Campbell: This was even more disappointing than the 100. With the pressure off after that flop, and for an event that requires no pacing, expectations were for her to rebound. It would have been an easy gold if she swam near her PB. She finished fifth. Her sister, Bronte, and world champion, was expected to get silver. She finished 7th. Bronte apparently had should problems leading into the Games so wasn’t fully ready.

Women 100f – Cate Campbell: The most famous meltdown of the Australian swim team and “possibly the greatest choke in Olympic history”, in her words. Fastest time by miles over anyone in the field and broke the world record only a few weeks earlier. That raised suspicions at the time she might have peaked too early. Anything near her best time and it’s a certain gold. Finished sixth. Her sister, Bronte, like with the 50, was the world champion and expected to get silver. She finished 4th.

Women 100b – Emily Seebohm: Hopelessly out of form. Her best time would have seen gold. Finished 7th.

Women 200b – Emily Seebohm: This time couldn’t even make the final. Best time would have won gold.

Women 200bf – Madeline Groves: One of the big chances based on producing the fastest time of the year. She did everything possible: swam fast, beat the Americans, beat the Chinese, beat just about anybody you’d suspect as tough competition. She lost to Spain’s Mireia Belmonte by just 3/100th of a second. She kept producing PBs so she can’t be faulted.

Women 4x100f relay: Justified their favourtism for an easy win, and in world record time. This result – on night 1 of the Games – proves the Campbell sisters arrived in form. It’s inexplicable both failed in the individual events.

Women 4x100m relay: With their best times, they would have won. Ended up second by just under 2 seconds.

In summary, 9 gold would have been the optimum return. You also counter that with the hope some swimmers improve from the trials, and you got that with the likes of Madeline Groves, who missed gold by a whisker.

Archery

$2.6m – 1 Bronze

Took a well deserved bronze in the men’s team event, and nearly caused a boilover when pushing the eventual Korean gold medalist to sudden death in the men’s singles.

Bastketball

$21.1m – 0 Medals

Women choked. Won all 5 pool games, led Serbia through the quarter final, lost by two points. Too many turnovers cost them and couldn’t cope with Serbia’s swarming defence. Warning signs were there in the pool games, where they had to make last quarter surges in their final two games to defeat Japan and Belarus. The men suffered a similar fate, also losing to Serbia, unable to cope with the pressure defence, and shooting so poor that their half time tally was only 14 points. This after beating Serbia in the pool games by 15 points, and the only loss being a close one to the USA. Then it was heartbreak in the bronze medal game, losing by 1 point to Spain. It’s the fourth loss in a bronze medal game, and one that will be rued. Not so much the bronze medal game, more the wasted opportunity in the semi final. They deserved a silver and to play for gold. While the funding seems high for the opportunity for only two medals, basketball is such a popular game that it’s worthwhile the investment. Also, had the men got that medal it would be have been one of our best and most celebrated of the Games.

Canoe/Kayak

$18m – 2 Bronze

Jessica Fox made an outstanding run in the K1 finals to secure bronze. It would have been silver if not for a faint touch on one of the gates. The Spanish winner was in a class of her own. Next Olympics C1 will be introduced for the women at the expense of the men’s K2. That will give her – and no doubt her precocious younger sister – an extra option for gold. The flat water was disappointing. The men’s K2-1000 bronze was the only medal.

Cycling

$32.5m – 1 Silver, 1 Bronze

A shocker. Even though Australia had no outright gold medal favourites, they had a plethora of top contenders and the result of zero gold is an abomination. There are some excuses, like the women’s pursuit team crashing in practice, and the ridiculously dangerous road race course saw Richie Porte crash out. Australia’s best hope, Simon Gerrens, was already out of the Games after a crash in the Tour de France. Rohan Dennis needed a bike change in the road time trial after breaking his handlebars, which cost him silver. The men’s pursuit team broke the old world record in the gold medal race only for Britain to break it by a greater margin – and win by just .8 seconds. That was superb effort. The women’s and men’s omnium events suffered from bad luck and a crash, respectively.

No excuses for our sprinters, with Anna Meares’ lone bronze the best achievement from six events. Meares entered the Games with dubiously low expectations for someone of her calibre: do better in the keirin than in 2012 (not hard since it was disaster) and to win a medal (took bronze in the keirin). Rio seemed more like farewell tour than a real, intense effort for gold. A nonchalant 10th in her pet event, the individual sprint, said it all. Matthew Glaetzer in the men’s events showed none of the speed seen in recent international events.

BMX was a wipeout with Caroline Buchanan just missing the final after a careless crash in her the final heat of her semi final. She’d not have beaten the Colombian winner, Mariana Pajon, in the final anyway. Pajon backed up after her 2012 gold medal to really demonstrate the meaning of pressure. In the men’s, both Australia’s best hopes reached the final undefeated from the semi finals, only to blow it in the final to finish 6th and 8th. Both had poor starts than usual. Quite possibly they wasted too much energy in the semi finals, allowing for fresher legs to steamroll them. The only equivocation is that BMX has a sudden death final for gold, which opens the possibility for misfortune. Earlier rounds are run over three heats, and this would be a much fairer approach to decide the medals.

Swimming’s big failures has meant cycling – particularly on the track – has escaped attention. No gold medals is outrageous for a sport that receives so much money. Authorities would have expected at least 3 gold medals, and hoped for more. With the exception of Athens 2004, cycling are perennial under-achievers. It was only one gold in London and none in Beijing. Even considering the dominance of the British track riders over those Olympics (7 from 10 in London, 6 from 10 in Rios), one gold in three Games is outrageous. Like with swimming, it’s no point popping up at world championships in other years and dominating. It’s about the Olympic Games and the sport needs an overhaul.

Diving

$8.6m – 1 Bronze

Popping up with gold two times since 2004 might have boosted funding. A minor medal or two is usually our standard, and that was the result here.

Equestrian

$10.5m – 1 Bronze

Led the eventing after dressage and cross country in both individual and team, only to lose it in the showjumping. While the individual had the precarious requirement to jump clean, the team of 3 riders could afford to drop 4 rails. That buffer was gone with the first rider. The second rider jumped clean only for the third rider – the individual leader – to drop two. That’s equestrian, and the team was really only in such a strong position after a superlative cross country. Rio will be a good base to build for Tokyo 2020 and get four more years experience into the horses.

Football

$8.1m – 0 Medals

Women lost their quarter final to Brazil in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw. Probably a tactical error that Michelle Heyman shot sixth, instead of on the potentially winning fifth kick. Midfielder Katrina Gorry missed that with a poor attempt, whereas Heyman, a striker, was clinical with hers. It’s an opportunity lost as the USA had already been eliminated by Sweden, leaving the gold medal race wide open. Sweden, who would have been Australia’s semi final opponent, lost 2-1 to Germany in the final.

The men had long choked when they couldn’t even qualify. They couldn’t even score a goal in their final qualifying tournament against the UAE and Jordan. Only against lowly Vietnam could they win a match. After a similar disaster four years prior in which they went entirely goalless through the final qualifying round, the question really must be asked whether it’s worth the effort to try qualify. Australia couldn’t get many of their players from overseas clubs again, and football itself goes almost unnoticed at the Games as the public and media focus on all the other sports. Most matches are played outside the host city, so it’s a very detached Olympic experience for the players too.

Football’s history at the Olympics is also a dubious one. In the amateur days, it was dominated by European communist countries. Once professional athletes were allowed in 1984, FIFA didn’t want the Olympics to rival the World Cup so European and South American nations could only field players that never played in a World Cup. That lasted until 1992 when it became an Under-23 competition. From 1996, three over-age players could be added. This compromise for legitimacy has perpetually undermined the value of the men’s competition. There’s no restrictions for the women.

If football didn’t earn so much money for Olympic organisers, it would be dumped. In fact, it should be dumped. Brazil finally winning their first gold medal in the sport is perfect timing for it to go. The money Australia spends is no issue, given it is the world’s most popular and biggest sport, and it offers the most prestigious competition in sport: the World Cup.

Golf

$4m – 0 Medals

Australia led the men for two rounds before, you guessed it, choked. In fairness, Marcus Fraser had the better of the conditions on the first day to build a lead. He was never in it after that. More important is the boycott by many of Australia’s and the world’s best golfers that undermined the credibility of the event. The women, at least, took it more seriously, and now Rio has its very first golf course. Whoopee!

Hockey

$26.7m – 0 Medals

The men, as hot favourites for gold, capitulated 4-0 to the Netherlands in the quarter finals. It’s yet another massive choke from a team of perpetual chokers. Their record is now one gold in 40 years and 11 Olympics despite consistent, and sometimes dominant, favouritism. The women were battered 4-2 by New Zealand in their quarter final to add to their woeful record in recent Games. For such a strong sport that nearly always produces a medal, Rio was a disaster. If funding is all about medals, you also must question the value of funding a sport with only two chances to win medals and only a niche appeal in Australia.

Modern Pentathlon

$0.190m – 1 Gold

Our best, and most surprising gold, of the Rio Games, if not ever for Australia. Seeing Chloe Esposito trying to control the tears as she’s running the final lap of the cross country combined and knowing she’ll win, it brings tears to your own eyes. I can’t remember a more emotional one. Up there are Debbie Flintoff-King in 1988, Cathy Freeman in 2000, Alisa Camplin in 2002, and Anna Meares and Sally Pearson in 2012 – and I’d say Esposito surpasses them. It was a remarkable win, needing to overcome a 45 second deficit in that final event to win gold. Missing only one of her 20 shots at the shooting range, she won easily and set an Olympic record. The $190k of funding received by Modern Pentathlon – the smallest amount by far for any Olympic sport – would only cover basic expenses. With Chloe’s younger brother, Max, finishing 7th in the men’s event and their father as coach, it’s primarily a family affair keeping the sport going. It’s a an old school gold medal in that sense, built on dedication, desire and sheer determination. A total contrast to the prima donna swimmers that are pampered to excess and full of excuses. Esposito surely would have carried the flag in the closing ceremony if chef de mission, Kitty Chiller, was not a former pentathlete herself.

Rowing

$31.1m – 1 Gold, 2 Silver

Kim Brennan came through in the women’s single sculls and was the second most deserved to the carry the flag at the closing ceremony (see previous paragraph). The men’s quad sculls and fours finished with silver. Both hoped for Gold. The quad sculls the most disappointing, dominating the event internationally for the past two years, only to lose when it counts. It wasn’t pleasant either, with Germany, out in lane 1 after qualifying through a repechage, rushed to an early and insurmountable lead, seemingly without the Australians realising. In the words of one of Australia’s crew, Germany “pulled a swifty”. Australia’s normally strong finish wasn’t good enough, and apparently the strong headwind didn’t help. The fours were beaten – again – by Britain. No great surprise there as the British have dominated this event for 5 Olympics now. Considering all the funding to the sport, rowing finished at least one gold too short.

Rugby Sevens

$6.6m – 1 Gold

The women won as expected. The men were outclassed as expected. This is one of the better new sports to the Games, as it’s exciting, is open to both genders, will quickly build depth, and is cheap to run. You only need a rectangular field, and all Olympic cities would have at least one of those. You wonder whether athletes from other sports might feel envious at this instant gold for Australia. They dream all their lives, and across generations, about the Olympics and here is a bunch of women scrambled together over a few years from other sports around the country and suddenly they are gold medalists at the Olympics.

Sailing

$29.3m – 1 Gold, 3 Silver

Four medals from seven events entered, so mirrored London in total medals (3 Gold, 1 Silver) and can’t be faulted. If you were picky, you might want an extra gold. In truth, it could have been four silvers if not for a masterful display by Tom Burton in the men’s Laser to finish by the required 5 places over Croatia in the Medal Race. He said his tactics to pin the Croatia before the line and force a penalty had less than a 10% chance of succeeding. Or it could have been two gold if the Nacra 17 crew finished five places, not 4, over Argentina in their Medal Race.

Shooting

$8.9m – 1 Gold

Didn’t hear a peep from it other than a surprise gold from Catherine Skinner in the women’s single trap early on (she needed a shoot-off just to reach the semi finals). Expect that to continue for future Games.

Track and Field

$29.2m – 1 Silver, 1 Bronze

Dani Samuels could have got a medal had she thrown her best. She finished fourth. Women’s middle distant events saw many Australian finalists, including 3 in the 5000m,with a consistent burst of personal best times. Not that any of them transferred into medals. The spectacular derriere of Genevieve LaCaze proved to be the biggest highlight, and I’m not even an “assman”. There was a bronze in the men’s 20km walk, and Jared Tallent took the silver in the 50km walk to match his gold from London. Track and Field is one sport that shows the value of participation means almost as much as winning medals. It’s the glamour competition of the Games, and arguably a gold there means much more than3 golds in sailing.

Tennis

$0.684m – 0 Medals

As usual, a waste of time. Samantha Stosur looked good in early rounds then folded. The men and doubles teams never on the radar. The only bright side was Monica Puig to win Puerto Rico’s first ever gold medal. Her tears made you think twice about tennis’ inclusion of the game. Then you think of all the other players that don’t care that much, that Grand Slams are still far more important, probably even for Puig, and tennis is a waste of time at the Olympics.

Triathlon

$8.5m – 0 Medals

Top 10 finishes in both events was about expected.

Water Polo

$14.3m – 0 Medals

The women choked, losing a penalty shootout after giving up a 2 goal lead to Hungary in the last quarter. The men, who were never a realistic chance for a medal, were knocked out in the group stage. Much like hockey, so much money for a sport with only two events available. In fact, it’s worst: the men only ever make up the numbers.

Other Sports

Badminton (2.2), Boxing (3.8), Gymnastics ($9.6m), Judo (3), Table Tennis (1), Taekwondo (1), Volleyball inc Beach (8.8), Wrestling (0.06) and Weightlifting (1.6) are the other sports to receive funding. All figures quoted from Australian Sports Commission, credit: ABC media.

ELSEWHERE

The Olympics are unique in that often there’s misery one day and elation the next. I watch more for general performances, and found great moments even among our depressing ones. The USA’s Simone Manuel (who said black girls can’t swim?) and Canada’s 16yo Penny Olensiak tying for first in Cate Campbell’s race (100m freestyle), and the tears from Denmark’s Pernille Blume winning the Campbell’s other failure, the 50m freestyle. It was Denmark’s first swimming gold since 1948. She would then go help the team win bronze in the 4×100 medley relay and there’d be even more tears.

The triple tie for second with Michael Phelps in the 100m fly – the first time there’s ever been a triple tie for a position in swimming. Even more amazing was Singapore’s Joseph Schooling winning the race, and beating his idol. It was Singapore’s first ever gold and meant a $1m reward for Schooling. USA’s Ryan Held, as part of the USA’s men 4×100 freestyle relay, was also in tears by sharing a podium with his hero, Phelps.

A wonderful bronze medal was New Zealand’s 19yo pole vaulter Eliza McCartney. Seeing her explode into tears after Australia’s Alana Boyd missed her final jump was amazing (sorry, Alana!). Usain Bolt was wonderful, if not overly self indulgent. It must be compensation for running for such a short time that the sprinters feel the need to spend so much time celebrating and prancing about after the race. He was trumped anyway by South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk breaking the 400m world record, and possibly Britain’s Mo Farah doing the double double of 5000m and 10,000m in successive Games. Finally, who could forget Fiji in the Rugby Sevens, or Brazil in football. It was one of the first times in ages I was cheering for Brazil.

Not quite the highlight was Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte in the 100 breaststroke. She was a big highlight in London when winning as a 15yo, and I’ve been watching her career since and hoping she could repeat in Rio. She was 4 seconds off her best (as world record holder) and finished seventh. Notably she was bulkier than 4 years prior and probably lost that suppleness in her stroke and sits a bit lower in the water.

PUBLIC REACTION

Needless to say, there’s been much criticism against the criticism of Australia’s poor result. Comments like 8 gold medals are a great achievement, expectations were too high, that by population we did well, and the athletes did their best, all miss the point. First, they (read: swimmers) did not do their best. They readily admit it themselves, failing to produce anywhere near their best performances. Second, medal predictions were based on benchmarks – an athlete’s best recent time. Produce that, you win, it’s that simple. Clearly something went horribly wrong when so many failed. Third, population is irrelevant, it’s about wealth and funding, Australia funds generously. Fourth, that funding is supplied by the taxpayers. Three gold from swimming equates to a cost of $13 million each. That’s unacceptable by anyone’s measure. Cycling was even worse with 0 gold.

For the record, we are proud of our champions. We’re proud of Esposito, Brennan, Skinner and Chalmers – all of whom did step up. That doesn’t mean we can excuse the failures. The team is funded with the aspiration of a top 5 place, which is about 15 gold and 45 medals. We don’t send them for participation medals and to be gracious losers. With the taxpayer as their sugar daddy, there must be a level of accountability. Otherwise, withdraw the funding, and let’s return to the days of little Aussie battlers scratching out a handful of gold.

TELEVISION

My only complaint with Channel 7’s coverage was switching sports all over the 3 channels. It made it impossible to record anything – annoying when this was the first Games I didn’t take holidays to watch. Some structure would be nice. While the app had everything live (if you wanted to pay $20 for it), who can watch things at 4am every night. Also, you couldn’t record or watch on delay, or stream it to your TV. Oh, and Bruce McAvaney, Chile recently won the Copa America, not the Copacabana! He messed that up during the opening ceremony. He also fluffed the description of Usain Bolt’s 200m win calling it the double triple. No, it was the triple double.

I was also peeved that some nights two of the channels were consumed with tennis and golf. These became more an intrusion to the Games than an inclusion. Yes, I’d rather see sailing, shooting and judo during the Games period than sports I can see any day of the week outside the Olympics. In fact, any sport where the Olympic Games is not their most prestigious competition, it should be out. As mentioned earlier, football is one of them. For sheer stupidity, out should go synchronized swimming, and possibly rhythmic gymnastics. These are purely artist events, not sport. Besides, both are sexist, because there’s no events for men.

RIO

Despite all the troubles with organisation, the lack of local interest, dirty water, muggings and stray bullets, the Rio Olympics ultimately proved a success. That’s because of the one great constant of the Olympics itself – the fabulous sporting competition. As a host city, it won’t be remembered well, and that will have ramifications for the choice of future host cities, which will need to be large, safe and with most infrastructure in place. Tokyo 2020 will be peerless in that sense.

SUMMARY

At 8 gold medals, Australia ended up with the bare minimum as marked in the preview. Even then there was some luck to reach that. Catherine Skinner in the shooting, Tom Burton in sailing, Chloe Esposito in Modern Pentathlon, and thankfully Kyle Chambers meant Cameron McEvoy’s flop was irrelevant (other than costing a minor medal). It was good timing to add Rugby Sevens to the Olympic program too. Of course, you will always end up with surprise gold medals, and that is the beauty of the Olympics. It’s the reason I rate Barcelona 1992 so highly because Australia had struggled for so long and suddenly we had 3 golds within a few days with Kathy Watt in cycling and two in equestrian, and eventually finishing with 7. Overall medals this time was 29, which is lower than 35 of the London debacle, and the lowest since the 27 in Barcelona.

Still a problem is our poor conversion of medals to gold medals. The best performed countries always have more gold than silver and bronze. Australia went 8, 11 and 10 compared to, say, Hungary at 8, 3 and 4, or Britain’s 27, 23, and 17. It’s more evidence of our choke culture, which we can see all the way back to Sydney. They were our Silver Games, not Golden Games, when the 16 gold medals had 25 silver medals as companions. Only Athens has shown some balance since. The “Winning Edge” program needs to include that so that even a poor Games by total medals will still look good when by gold medals. Actually, this Games would have proved exactly as so if not for the massive choke.

In comparison to similar sized and wealthy nations, Netherlands and Hungary also won 8 gold, with the Dutch unlucky to finish on a sour note when Dafne Schippers had to settle for silver in the 200m on the track and the women’s hockey lost in a penalty shootout to Britain when attempting to win their third gold in a row. Britain, in fact, were phenomenal and clearly the best performed nation in my estimation. Lower down Croatia was superb with 5, and that’s despite losing to arch rivals Serbia in water polo. Brazil will be rapt with their 7, picking up gold in men’s volleyball and beach volleyball to add to football in team sports. Other gold medals were judo, sailing, pole vaulting and boxing. Commonwealth cousins New Zealand and Canada won 4 gold each.

Realistically, the AOC’s aim to finish top 5 I feel diminishes the value of each gold medal. In fact, we don’t even care about silver and bronze anymore, unless it’s a spectacular result, like almost the men’s basketball. Countries like Britain (if their funding ever dries up), France (10 gold), Italy (8), Japan (12) and Korea (8) are roughly our direct competition on the table, and we should aim to settle at 30 medals per Games, with an average of 10 gold medals and a top 10 spot. The exception are years when we know we’re in for a strong Games, because those ones (Rio) should make up for the bad ones (London). Now with this double disappointment, is it look out Tokyo 2020?

Medal table from Rio 2016 Olympics

Rio 2016 Preview & Predictions

Rio 2016 – Preview & Predictions

05 August 2016

Will Rio 2016 finally be the Olympics Australia doesn’t choke? Despite the hype generated from the swag of gold medals won since Sydney 2000, we have actually under-achieved as a nation, particularly in the pool. While we were highly critical of the 1 gold won at London 2012, in terms of predicted success, it was actually no worse than Beijing 2008.

logo01

Predictions in 2008 – notably from the American Sports Illustrated magazine – had Australia winning 12 gold medals in the pool as a minimum. If everything went right, it was 15, or even 17. While the rest of the world kept swimming personal bests in race after race, Australia kept producing flop after flop. Even worse was the jingoistic false pride from the team and the media at the minor medals won. Sorry, we, as a nation, are not proud of silver when we, as taxpayers, pump millions into a sports program and we, as sports fans, expect our athletes to perform to their abilities.

You can go back as far as Barcelona in 1992 for failures in the pool, often with the team returning half the gold medals they should have won. For all the fuss of Kieren Perkins winning the 1500m in Barcelona, he should have won the 400m too. Atlanta was similarly bereft of gold medals until two in the final days. Athens 2004, and especially Sydney 2000, are more illustrious failures. Whereas in 2012, Australia went in with only one or two gold medal favourites, and finished with one. Ironically, that was the surprise from the women’s’ 4×100 freestyle relay on the first night.

Let’s hope Rio is the salvation. Noted data analysts Gracenote are predicting, right now, 8 gold medals from the pool and 16 gold medals across all sports. A few months ago it was 18 gold medals. Our previous best was 17 in Athens. Sports Illustrated is suggesting 11 in the pool – an exaggeration this time – and 20 overall. The good news is those in the pool should be unbeatable if they produce near their personal bests. While one or two might be unlucky to be ambushed by a freak rival performance on the day, the key point is to produce the times. Too often the excuse of “it’s a racing meet” is offered for poor times, when really it should be no excuse. Swim your own race.

AUSTRALIA’S GOLD MEDAL CHANCES

Swimming

Minimum: 6
Optimum: 8
Maximum: 11

Women’s 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke, 200 backstroke and 4*100 freestyle, and men’s 100 freestyle, 100 and 200 backstroke are the key events.

Curiously, Cate Campbell broke the 100m world record only a few weeks ago. Let’s hope she hasn’t peaked. She’s miles in front of the world in that event, and favoured in the 50m, and so are the women in the 4x100f relay. Emily Seebohm and Mitch Larkin are world champions in the two backstroke events and, at the minimum, should win one of them. Cameron McEvoy in the men’s 100f is also the world champion and clearly the fastest in the world. There could be one or two surprises, like Mack Horton in the men’s 400f.

Basketball

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 1

Can the women finally win gold? Only if someone else beats the USA along the way. That’s how Australia won its world championship several years ago, and then beat Russia for gold. The men can only hope for a minor medal.

Canoe/Kayak

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 1
Maximum: 2

Jessica Fox, silver in 2012, is a double world champion. Her slalom event can be tricky – one mistake and you are gone – so difficult to bank a certain gold here. On the flat water, the men occasionally snag a gold, and won gold in the k4*1000 in London.

Cycling

Minimum: 1
Optimum: 3
Maximum: 7

Plenty of chances with not too many guarantees. Anna Meares (sprint champion in 2012) is in three events and hopefully she wins one (the keirin the most likely). Annette Edmondson is a solid chance in the omnium, as are both women and men (especially women) in the team pursuit. BMX has multiple recent world champion Caroline Buchanan, while Sam Willoughby was one in the past. Finally, either race road could spring a surprise.

Diving

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 1

Occasionally diving delivers a gold. Syncro events or women’s platform the best chances.

Equestrian

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 1

Cross country and 3-day eventing are Australia’s best chances. It’s been quiet for a few Olympics so maybe it’s time for another gold.

Football

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 1

The men didn’t qualify; the women are on the rise. A gold would be a wonderful surprise, and an extra challenge after already losing their first match in Rio. A 2-0 loss to Canada means they must beat Germany in the next match. A draw means they’ll need to rely on other results, while a loss means they are out of the Olympics on the first official day of competition. Zimbabwe is the fourth team in the group and are expected to be easy beats for all teams after already losing 6-1 to Germany.

Golf

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 1

Who cares? Ridiculous event to include. Men a chance.

Hockey

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 1
Maximum: 1

The men are a strong chance – as long as they don’t choke. Starting with the infamous failure in Montreal in 1976, for 40 years they’ve entered the Olympics as one of the favourites, if not the favourite, and returned 1 gold medal. The last two Olympics they fell apart in the semi finals after leading at half time. They could be the biggest chokers of any Australian team or individual in any sport, ever!

Rowing

Minimum: 1
Optimum: 2
Maximum: 3

Five minor medals four years ago means it’s time for gold. Kim Brennan (nee Crow) dominates women’s sculls, and the men are good chance in the fours and quad sculls.

Rugby Sevens

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 1
Maximum: 1

Women are world champions; men could surprise.

Sailing

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 1
Maximum: 3

The sport that saved our skin in London. The men’s 470s (Mathew Belcher & Will Ryan) and 49er (Nathan Outteridge & Iain Jensen) are reigning Olympic champions. Tom Burton in the Laser an outside chance. Sailing can be fickle so best not to bank too heavily here.

Shooting

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 1

Another sport that occasionally produces a gold, usually in the trap events.

Tennis

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 1

Another sport that should not be the Games. Only hopes are doubles and mixed doubles events.

Track and Field

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 2

Fabrice Lapierre in the long jump and Jared Tallent in the walking events the main chances. Tallent belatedly won gold from the 50km at London 2012 after the Russian winner was eventually disqualified for drug use.

Triathlon

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 1

Either men or women a chance.

Water Polo

Minimum: 0
Optimum: 0
Maximum: 1

Women a chance.

Total

Minimum: 8
Optimum: 17
Maximum: 39

Remember, that maximum is everything in every event for every chance going right. This obviously will not happen. In fact, I’ve already allowed for this eventuality by not assigning two gold medals to team events like rugby and hockey. It would be highly unlikely both would win. If you cut the difference between optimum and maximum (22) in half (11), then the more realistic maximum is 28.

Personally I want the swimming team to excel. Ten gold in the pool and winning the medal tally would be perfect. Especially that the swimmers that are favoured to win – Campbell, Seebohm, McEvoy and Larkin – are decent, humble people. Speaking of decent and humble, Jessica Fox in the kayak slalom would be the most exciting gold of all to win. She’s won of the few people I follow on twitter. Anna Meares deserves another gold on the velodrome, while Annette Edmondson deserves her first.

OTHER NATIONS

Of course, the Olympics is not all about other Australia. Personally, I love to look elsewhere and absorb as much as I can. Other than the obvious of Usain Bolt to win the 100m and 200m for a third time, American swimmer Katie Ledecky will be the one to watch. She won 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m at the world titles last year, and has demolished world records, particularly in the distance events. There’s no 1500m for women in the Olympics, and the 200m will be much tougher in an Olympic year. The 400m and 800m are still there, as other relay swims. She could finished with 4 gold medals.

The athlete for which I’ll have the most interest is Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte in the 100m breaststroke. She won in London as a 15 year old and it would be great to see her double up. The biggest threat would be Russia’s Yuliya Efimova, who beat her at the world championships last year. Incredibly, Efimova’s status is not 100% certain, with the IOC still to confirm her eligibility to compete in Rio. Efimova is contesting the grounds for the original doping offence (that she already served) so claims she should not be part of the IOC’s directive that Russia bans all athletes ever sanctioned for drug use.

RUSSIA

The right decision has been made that individuals never caught doping are allowed to compete. To ban an entire nation is ridiculous, and speaks more of the sanctimonious and reactionary approach by WADA, and the public as a whole. WADA is more concerned with its own power than individual athletes, sets ridiculous levels for athletes to prove innocence, and uses the Court of Arbitration for Sport to enforce its decisions. Realise that the CAS adjudicates on the jurisdiction of the appealing body (WADA, in this case). It’s not a true court where guilt must be proved, meaning that case involving WADA typically goes in favour of WADA.

You saw it first hand with the Essendon scandal in the AFL. Impossible to convict under the AFL’s jurisdiction of a stronger burden of proof, WADA steps in (because the AFL is a signatory) with its jurisdiction of almost non-existent proof, and the decision is reversed. There’s also Maria Sharapova’s case of ostensibly being allowed to take an illegal drug so WADA could eventually grandstand once she tests positive.

Even despite the narcissistic influence of WADA, it simply would have been wrong to ban individuals that never doped, and especially never had their samples fiddled by the Russian government. Think if it was Australia’s track and field athletes caught in systematic doping, and it was decided all the swimmers and cyclists should be banned with them. We’d be outraged, and rightfully so!

MORE INFORMATION & LINKS

Sports Illustrated says Australia to win 20 gold medals among 50 overall. Gold medals:

Cycling – Sprint – Matthew Glaetzer
Cycling – Keirin – Anna Meares
Cycling – BMX – Caroline Buchanan
Cycling – Men Team Pursuit
Hockey – Men
Rowing – Men Quad sculls
Rowing – Women Single sculls – Kim Brennan
Rowing – Women Quad sculls
Rugby – Women
Swimming – Men 100f – Cameron McEvoy
Swimming – Men 400f – Mack Horton
Swimming – Men 100b – Mitch Larkin
Swimming – Men 200b – Mitch Larkin
Swimming – Women 50f – Cate Campbell
Swimming – Women 100f – Cate Campbell
Swimming – Women 100b – Emily Seebohm
Swimming – Women 200b – Emily Seebohm
Swimming – Women 200bf – Madeline Groves
Swimming – Women 4x100f relay
Swimming – Women 4x100m relay

Interestingly they rank Jessica Fox in kayak slalom only for bronze and have totally ignored sailing and the women’s pursuit team in cycling. The women’s 200bf is the surprise inclusion for swimming. The women’s 4x100m relay seems optimistic to beat the USA for gold. Like I said earlier, there could be surprises, and SI’s 11 gold medals match my maximum.

http://www.si.com/olympics/2016/08/01/rio-2016-olympics-medal-picks-predictions-projected-medal-count

 

Gracenote are giving us Fox, a sailing gold and, surprisingly, a shooting gold, while dumping Seebohm in the 200br and three cycling gold medals.

Canoe Slalom – K1 J. Fox
Canoe Sprint M K4 1000m
Cycling – Track M Team Pursuit
Hockey M Team
Rowing W Single Sculls K. Brennan
Rugby Sevens W Team
Sailing M 470 M. Belcher/Ryan
Shooting M 50m Rifle Prone W. Potent
Swimming M 100m Freestyle C. McEvoy
Swimming M 400m Freestyle M. Horton
Swimming M 100m Backstroke M. Larkin
Swimming M 200m Backstroke M. Larkin
Swimming W 50m Freestyle C. Campbell
Swimming W 100m Freestyle C. Campbell
Swimming W 100m Backstroke E. Seebohm
Swimming W 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay

http://sportsdemo1.gracenote.com/documentation/vmt#demo

The Australian Olympic Committee is predicting 13 gold medals among 37 medals overall. They’ve added two women’s cycling gold and stuck to the big chances elsewhere.

GOLD: Anna Meares (Cycling, Keirin), Annette Edmondson (Cycling, Omnuim), Women’s Team Pursuit (Cycling), Men’s hockey team, Kim Crow (Rowing, women’s single sculls), Mathew Belcher and Ryan Will (Sailing, 470), Mitch Larkin (Swimming, 100m backstroke, 200m backstroke), Cate Campbell (Swimming 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle), Emily Seebohm (Swimming 100m backstroke, 200m backstroke), women’s 4x100m freestyle relay (Swimming).

SILVER: Fabrice Lapierre (Athletic, long jump), Jared Tallent (Athletics, 50km walk), Kenith Wallace and Lachlan Tame (Canoe/Kayak, K2 1000m), Caroline Buchanan (Cycling, women’s BMX), Michael Mathews (Cycling, road race), Glenn O’Shea (Cycling, Omnium), men’s fours (rowing), men’s quadruple sculls (rowing), women’s rugby sevens team, Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin (Sailing, Nacra 17), Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen (Sailing, 49er), men’s 4×100 medley relay (Swimming), Cameron McEvoy (Swimming, 100m freestyle), Madison Wilson (Swimming, 100m backstroke), Casey Dellacqua (Tennis, women’s doubles), John Peers (Tennis, Men’s doubles).

BRONZE: Women’s basketball team, Anna Meares and Kaarle McCulloch (Cycling, team sprint), men’s team pursuit (Cycling), Samantha Mills and Esther Qin (Diving, 3m synchronised springboard), Tom Burton (Sailing, laser), women’s 4x100m medley relay (Swimming), men’s 4x200m freestyle relay (Swimming), Cate Campbell (Swimming, 100m freestyle), Jessica Ashwood (Swimming, 400m freestyle)

London 2012 – Review

18 September 2012

Hits, Misses and Meltdowns

“You must be so disappointed, what happened?”, what was the question asked by Giaan Rooney to Australia’s 4x100m men’s relay that flopped big time. If only this was the exact sort of question asked to the swimmers for almost 20 years, then maybe the predicament they were in now, and the disappointment and shock that the country felt, would not have occurred. As is typical of these modern times, this seemingly harsh critique of performances was suddenly the target of lame, non-sporting commentators and celebrities exclaiming that the athletes were brats and should be satisfied with silver, or fourth as was the case for the relay team. Shockingly one such “voice of reason” was Shane Gould on ABC’s Q&A program. Of course, she’s easy to talk, having won her 3 gold medals in Munich before suddenly quitting the sport because competition was suddenly of no interest to her.

This mentality to be content with second best and that the Olympics is not just about winning is the very reason the swimmers returned this horrific result. The word “result” is the key word. While the objective of sport should not be about statistical side of winning, it is about results, the most basic of which is meeting or improving your standard – ie: “doing your best”. These swimmers did not fail because they did their best and found an opponent better on the day. No, as they’ve done in many Olympics before, they failed to get even near their best. That is where the indictment lies, especially when the sport is heavily funded by the Australian tax-payer.

Anna Meares wins the women's sprint at London 2012 Olympics
Anna Meares wins the women’s sprint at the London 2012 Olympics for Australia

Readers of Socceroo Realm reviews of previous Olympics will no doubt be aware of the harsh criticism placed on the swimmers. In truth, the team for London actually performed no worse than the team for Beijing. In London, they were favoured only for two gold, and won one. In Beijing, they were favoured for 12 gold, and won six. The failure rate is identical. It’s just that six is a nicer number and the hyperbolic chest-beating that this coerces clouds the shambolic performances far more readily than one gold medal can.

With Australia reeling on the medal table with just one gold for the first 10 days, the air of mediocrity began to descend on the team to accept their lot, and to reinforce to the public that even winning just any medal was not easier. The aforementioned Giaan Rooney would, nearing the end of the swimming meet, tweet that “times don’t win races, people do”. Rubbish! Who produce times? People! If the swimmers could simply produce their times, then would come the basic benchmark of success of “doing your best”.

Mitchell Watt, after flopping in the long jump, had the most galling and insulting argument saying to Australia “you need to wake up” and that only an infinitesimal amount of people in Australia have won an Olympic medal, insinuating that those without medals have no right to criticise or have no idea of the difficulty of winning one. Watt’s jump of 8.16 was 38cm off his personal best, with the competition won with just 8.24 – the shortest leap to win gold since Munich. Watt went on to say, “I can’t believe I am a silver medallist with 8.16. On the one hand I’ve lost count of the times I’ve jumped over 8.30 – it’s probably over a dozen competitions”. Bingo! He then continued to say, “an Olympic gold medal is bloody hard to get… If people can’t realise a silver medal is a great achievement then there is something wrong with them”. No, there’s something clearly wrong with Watt and others of his ilk. He’s exposed his own contradiction and folly without even realising it. For someone that can regularly jump 8.30, he could win a silver medal running backwards, with gold simply meeting his standard. Yes, an Olympic medal is hard for anyone off the street to win. It’s not for an athlete clearly ranked number one in his event and afforded all the funding and pampering to get there. All he really had to do was execute his day job to a close approximation of his everyday standard. He didn’t. He failed. Just as his comrades in the pool did.

Quotes from others…

James Magnussen: “I can hold my head high and I’m proud of my achievements this week”. After the debacle of the 4×100 relay, Magnussen went on to lose the 100free by 1/100th of second despite seemingly have a clear lead on the last stroke. He didn’t dive for the wall strongly enough. Also, he was over half a second off his PB. He’s joking if he can really be proud. In fact, he is joking. Upon returning to Australia, he occasionally slipped out among all the contrived gibberish and that there is a fire to atone at Rio 2016.

Cate Campbell said it was “a little bit hurtful” of the criticism: “Its not that we haven’t been performing, its just that the world has stepped up”. No, the Australians failed. When you can’t manage personal bests, questions must be asked.

Melanie Schlanger said the attitude of the Australian public would “be a lot better” if Magnussen and Seebohm won: “The difference between being slammed and being praised is quite harsh”. So it should be. The disappointment against those two is that they failed to produce their best. It’s not even about medals. Jessica Fox’s silver in the kayak slalom was the toast of the nation because she exceeded all expectations. Whereas when Magnussen hyped himself so much, only to under-perform, the criticism must be harsh, and the disappointment must be enduring.

Nick Green, chef de mission, said all Australian silver medallists were delighted with their results. “In no way has it been a negative for them or our team”.

Thankfully, not all athletes were in this mode of making excuses. In fact, the biggest story that provoked the mentality of accepting mediocre performances was Emily Seebohm. She was heart-broken and distraught at missing the gold. It was so good to see her cry, unlike the relay men making excuses in denial. Seebohm at least has some defence. While she was way slower than her heat and semi that saw her set an Olympic record, in the final the American was only 1/10th off this record. While Seebohm would have won gold had she matched her OR, the fraction is so small that she can be forgiven.

We should want to see our athletes cry. Most have dedicated huge portions of their lives to their sport and there simply must be an opposite emotion to the joy of winning. As Australia rejoiced in the women’s 4×100 relay victory, there was an opposing story for the Dutch – the hot favourites – losing. They collectively cried after the medal ceremony and one of the Dutch papers headlined with “Golden Girls Fail”. Let’s never be too precious or gloating of victory in these circumstances, because that’s just one minor chapter of an entire event’s story. When it’s our turn to read one of the bad chapters, we must do so with humility and acceptance.

Seebohm’s result highlighted the main intrigue of these Olympic flops. How can swimmers swim slower in the final or not even do a personal best? This pattern of slow times in finals has been omnipresent. At Beijing, while the entire world was breaking world records and setting PBs in the “super suits”, the Australians mysteriously were not. If they did break a world record, they’d do it in the semi and then swim slower in the final, as Eamon Sullivan did. Even in Seebohm’s race in London, the Australian in seventh did so with a PB. Why couldn’t Seebohm? It seemed – like most of these flops – they go out too fast. Seebohm admitted this herself, that she was really hurting by the end of the race.

WHY THE FLOPS?

Clearly it’s psychological and/or work ethic and/or attitude. Too often there’s been a wimp factor associated with our elite runners and swimmers. Ian Thorpe quit the sport primarily because the work to keep pace with the world was too tough and he preferred the easier life associated with his monetary riches that also saw him courted as one of the glitterati for pompous parties and speaking engagements. He sensationally switched coaches just before Athens to Tracey Menzies, primarily for motivation – ie: she told him stuff exactly that he wanted to hear. Cathy Freeman is an even a greater blight on the country in terms of quitting, when she retired just one year before Athens and forsaked almost the certainty of becoming a dual gold medallists given the slow winning time of her particular event. Again, talked out of it by some soft-belly psychologist saying something like “you’ve done so much for your country, go out and have fun for yourself”, rather someone ram the fire up her butt and telling her that destiny awaits.

Then there’s the easy life. In athletics, once you’re on the team, there’s an endless circuit of World Championships, World Cups, World Indoor Events, Commonwealth Games and Olympics. This began in the early 80s and with that Australia has remained stagnant. With the low profile of the sport in Australia, these athletes are simply now content to the travel the world and enjoy the pampering and pandering. Come the early 90s, swimming began to expand its calendar, almost now as full as athletics. With this perpetual state of an Australian team, there’s now such little incentive to drive harder for the Olympics. Ron Clarke once famously said that he never saw a pair of sunglasses win a race, and now Rob de Castella pinpointed this low work ethic as well. It’s true. The source of this laziness is the easy endorsements and cosy international life. No more is this typified in an athlete like Tamsyn Lewis. She’s been on the scene for over a decade and never got near her PB in years. No doubt her angst at missing the Olympics was for the social aspect and to advertise for her sponsors, not for a chance to perform. The only solution is much tougher qualification times.

Just as this blog is being written, news comes about that men’s 4x100m relay team causing havoc with a rambunctious bonding session just days before Olympic Games. Drinking and disturbing female swimmers asleep in the hotel. Along with the fiasco of swimmers plugged into social networks on the eve of their events, such incidents typified the arrogance and frivolous attitude that many had competing for Australia. Liesel Jones, no doubt the biggest choker and under-performing swimmer in Australia’s history, could not stop telling interviewers that she’s in London to have fun. When asked of her advice to team-mates, it was to have fun and not worry about race results. Compare her and Seebohm’s entry to the pool deck and they are giggling and waving, then look at the swimmers of most other nations, and it’s all seriousness. Heck, look at Sally Pearson’s steely approach and unwavering concentration through her rounds of 100m hurdles. The impression is stark. Just as stark as the final results.

In defeat, compare the likes of Watt and Jones that publicly state their pride in the silver, or bronze, or fifth. Because an Olympic medal is hard and most important is to have fun! Then look at Australia’s coxless four in rowing, or team pursuit in cycling, absolutely gutted to finish second. These were events where Australia almost only had to show up for a silver and that the fight was for gold was much like the situation for Watt in the long-jump. Except Watt still has his international circuit, endorsements and lifestyle. While many of the cyclists are fortunate enough to return to professional teams, the rowers must slug it out juggling everyday life for their sport. No wonder the huge disparity in reactions. That’s not to suggest that athletics needs to cut all their major competitions. That means it’s up to the sporting authorities to implement tougher standards for continued financial support. Ideally, level of funding should be based on Olympic results.

WHY SHOULD AUSTRALIA BE SO AGGRIEVED AT THIS OLYMPIC FAILURE?

These athletes are heavily funded by the Australian taxpayer. That money is for us to stoke our national pride every four years, not for them to have fun, acquire as many follower on twitter as possible and get inked with a new tattoo. $310 million went to this Olympic campaign, with just under $40m to the swimmers alone. Questions must be asked at all levels, with each individual sport made accountable to the AOC and the government. That includes the AOC itself.

One problem immediately noted was the lack of psychologists. Instead, the likes of Steve Waugh, Layne Beachley, John Eales and Kieren Perkins were there as “liaison officers”. What the hell would they know? The sporting careers of Waugh, Beachley and Eales consisted of a pampered lifestyle against minimal or dubious world opposition. Much of their success was dished up on a plate thanks to fat contracts and massive funding. None were accountable in defeat. Cricket is notorious for excuses and sticking by their mates, while rugby could always call on the excuse that only two states played the sport. As an athlete, I’d want to be hearing from someone that really did it tough. No doubt these clowns imparted such flaccid wisdom of “just do your best… results will come… oh, and have fun”. That might work in the tame world of cricket and women’s surfing, it doesn’t work in an Olympics whether there’s dozens of hungry athletes out to execute their one shot of glory every four years. Even Perkins, he could only relay his famous victory in Atlanta. That was off the back of success already in the same low-key event in Barcelona, so hardly motivation for those new to the game.

The good news is that despite the outburst against the failure and that athletes should be far be more appreciative and less petulant about their results, there’s a virtual unanimous acceptance by athletes, commentators, media and – most importantly – the AOC, the Australian government and various sporting bodies, that this Olympics was a failure. The issues that saw this failure have been embedded for nearly 20 years, and it took until a Games like this and that one lonely gold medal for reality to bite.

THE HITS

Sailing – 3 Gold, 1 Silver

It’s actually been a long time coming. The sailors have been strong in several events with World Champions since Atlanta. Minor medals there, two gold in Sydney, a disastrous total wipe-out in Beijing, and now 3 gold in London. Most of all, the three winning classes were all hot favourites for their event and flung the pressure off their trapeze and hiking straps with ease, and duly won. Tom Slingsby in the Laser had the most pressure, after being hot favourite in Beijing and finishing 22nd, he just couldn’t fail in London. The women’s match-racing team showed how a young and emerging force should compete: with fearless respect, concentration and determination. They lost the final 3-2 to Spain, being behind twice in the series, and unlucky in two races, first with losing a crew member after a freak wave, and then a penalty in the decider.

Sally Pearson – Athletics, 100m Hurdles, Gold

It’s not just because her result was one of most exciting, this woman is a true inspiration. She has the right attitude and the right work ethic. No mention of “having fun” in these quotes leading into her event…

I’m really hard on my self as well.. Nothing is good enough for me in training. I always want more. I always want to give 100%. I use my training like a competition. I imagine these girls [Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells] next to me every single time I’m going over those hurdles in training.

I’ve been given a gift from somewhere. I’m not sure where. For me I don’t want to waste it. You want to use it every single time you’re out there.

I am number 1 and everyone else is second and let’s hope that’s how it turns out on the night.

Anna Meares – Cycling, Sprint, Gold

While Pearson was favoured to win her event, Meares has often come up short. She was humbled in the World Championships in Melbourne earlier in the year, and just seems to have that brittle edge to her that many top Australian sports people do. It proved that it was her rival, Victoria Pendleton, that cracked, entering the back straight too slow after Meares had forced her to lead, Meares pounced. She herself couldn’t believe it. After rightfully edging past Pendleton in the first heat after a relegation, surely the second one should not be this easy? Most of all, Meares deserved it. It meant so much to her. Her reactions after receiving the medal should be bottled and shown forever to our swimmers to show medals can’t be taken for granted and are just so damn precious.

Kakak Slalom – Jessica Fox, Silver; Kayak Sprint – Men’s K4 1000, Gold

Proof that you don’t need gold for success. Just do your best. Or, in Fox’s case, exceed your best. As a winner of the 2010 youth Olympics, she had potential. Few expected her to finish second. If you listen to Fox, despite revelling in the silver, she’s still a little annoyed that gold was only half a second a way. She lost considerable time in one of the up-water gates. Don’t worry. That will keep her fired up for Rio.

The men’s K4 went into London on the back of silver at the last world championships and has clear fasted qualifier for the final. They kept their concentration and won accordingly.

MISSES

Cycling – 1 Gold, 2 Silver, 3 Bronze

Much was made of the rivalry with Great Britain on the track at these Games. It proved non-existent with Britain winning 7 of the 10 gold medals on offer on the track. Australia won the women’s sprint, Germany the women’s team sprint, while Denmark won the men’s omnium. The latter event, Australia was dead unlucky. Glenn O’Shea – the world champion – led the event into the scratch race, only to be marked out of it by his competitors. He missed the key breakaway and finished a lowly 14th. He took third in the final event of the 1km time trial to no avail. Of the six events he finished third 4 times, 8th and 14th. Even a top 8 in the scratch race would have been enough for gold.

The women’s omnium had a similar story, with one bad result costing Annette Edmondson. She still finished third. The marquee men’s pursuit race ended with a British victory in world record time. They’d broken the world record in qualifying and the first match-race. Women’s pursuit were .082 off the gold/silver ride – again, as is the trend for Australian failures, out too hard. They ended with nothing. Women’s kierin was the big miss. More on that later.

Australia were unlucky in two sports in London, targeting them that in any other year would have paid rich dividends. This year the host nation also had them targeted. The other sport of target was…

Rowing – 3 Silver, 2 Bronze

While one or two crews flopped, others had the formidable British in their way, most particularly the event of the men’s coxless four. Both crews streeted the field.   Britain were just too strong. Like cycling, Australia unfortunate to have their sporting strengths the same as the British.

Athletics* – 1 Gold, 2 Silver

Kudos to Sally Pearson and Jared Tallant for holding their end of the bargain – and the pressure – to get the medals they deserved. What about the rest of this mob that was funded to the tune of $31mil? Other than the emerging Steven Soloman, did any other athlete make a final? Even our relay teams flopped, or didn’t even qualify for the Games, with only the men’s 4×100 squeaking into the final. A total embarrassment.

Cycling BMX – 1 Silver

Australia had the female world record holder and the male world champion. Both easily qualified for the final. Caroline Buchanan was slow off at the start, race over. Sam Willoughby was out-punched by defending champion, Maris Strombergs of Latvia. Strombergs looked in trouble during the 3-heat semi-finals, only just squeaking through to the final in the last heat with a high place. Was he conserving energy? It seemed so, because Willoughby had no answers. In fairness to both of Australia’s athletes, BMX is a one-off cut-throat final after going through qualifying, and then multiple quarter and semi rounds. It seems absurd. While in regular BMX racing, all rounds are sudden death, in the Olympics in probably should be fairer with a 3-heat final as well.

MELTDOWNS

Swimming – 1 Gold, 6 Silver, 3 Bronze, 1 lousy fourth place by the men’s 4×100 relay

As already mentioned, swimming returned results of farcical proportions. The number of minor medals tells the story. The gold won was actually unexpected. Of the two “certain” golds, one was the 4×100 men’s relay that swam 3 seconds below their best; the other James Magnussen in the 100 freestyle, touched out by 1/100th of a second despite seemingly leading on the last stroke, not to mention he was over half a second off his personal best. Stephanie Rice’s shoulder injury just hadn’t recovered enough to allow her to perform at her best. Expected better of either Sullivan or Magnussen in the 50m free. The latter couldn’t even make the final.

Of the “chances” as described in the preview, most of these took the minor medals.

Of the “hopes”, the women’s 4×100 relay team came through. In the women’s 200im, Alicia Coutts was dead unlucky to meet the super Ye Shiwen – the Chinese swimmer grossly unfairly the topic of drug smears. Coutts was one to consistently swim at or above her personal bests.

Tennis – Fail

Samantha Stosur should do better on grass. While winning was unlikely, the two women’s doubles and the mixed doubles were all bundled out in the early rounds. In men’s singles, ironically, the fading Lleyton Hewitt went the furthest in the tournament. Men’s doubles couldn’t even qualify a team. An absolutely appalling return given Australia’s rich history in tennis.

All Team Sports – 3 Bronze

As we know, neither football team could even qualify. That left the banner for hockey, basketball and water-polo. Men’s hockey – the perennial massive chokers of Australian Olympic team sports – did it again, leading Germany in the semis and losing. Both water polo teams led their semis before falling apart. The women recovered to take bronze. Women’s basketball lost to France in the round robin, forcing a showdown with the USA in the semi. They led at half time before wilting. They then won the bronze medal match over Russia and celebrated like winners. Never has a third place podium seen such a party. That’s because it felt like a “win”, compared to silver being awarded for losing the gold medal game.

Cycling – Anna Meares, Kierin, Fail

This woman should have been a double gold-medallist and real star of the Games. Instead, this failure will be forgotten as “swimmers syndrome” of winning gold in one or two events and forgetting the failures everywhere else. This event should not be forgotten. Ironically, Meares was a similar victim to Pendleton in their sprint decider. Meares entered the back straight too slow (read: too cocky) and got swamped. Race over.

Shooting – Michael Diamond, Single Trap, Fail

How could someone set an Olympic record and equal the world record with a score of 125 out of 125 in the preliminary rounds, only to miss 5 shots in the 25-shot final, including 3 of the last 5 shots to lose gold? Michael Diamond did. That’s right, he only needed to hit 23 of those 25 shots in the final round to win gold. He ended fifth of six finalists, missing a medal altogether – a total meltdown. He blamed “getting ahead” of the target – ie: trying to predict it rather than spot and shoot. That sounds more like poor concentration or maybe even the traditional Australian bullish arrogance. Then once there’s a miss, pressure is piled on.

Athletics – Steven Hooker, Pole Vault, Farcical

If there’s one “athlete” that sums up the weak Australian mentality and seemingly the focus to prance around in a dodgy hairdo and delusional strut, it’s this ultra sook, Steven Hooker. This was the athlete with the “yips”, then when presented with a chance to get more practice in the Olympic arena, he led a revolt during qualifying to force the remaining 14 men through to the final – as distinct to the usual 12 – because the last 4 were tied and that would have elongated the qualifying competition too long to split them. Naturally in the final he “no-heighted”, running through twice and crashed the bar down on the only leap that cleared the ground. At least with this humbling loss (if it’s not, it should be), the pressure’s gone, so as a has-been, he might be able to summon the will to become a been-again.

THE PREDICTED 8 TO 30 GOLD MEDALS?

That was the prediction, with 8 being the absolute lowest while 18 being optimum. Let’s look at the optimum gauge with the final result in brackets…

Athletics 1 (1)*
Cycling 4 (1)
Equestrian 1 (0)
Gymnastics 1 (0)
Hockey 1 (0)
Rowing 2 (0)
Sailing 2 (3)
Shooting 1 (0)
Swimming 3 (1)
Misc 2 (1)

Total 18 (7)*

Lauren Mitchell was apparently still recovering from injury that caused her stumble on the beam. Her best result was 5th on the floor. Equestrian had a disaster in the cross country for 3-day eventing, losing a rider and incurring too many penalties. Show-jumping was the other miss. The miscellaneous gold is courtesy of the kayak sprint, men’s K4 1000. Cycling should have delivered at least one more, either women’s kierin or either of the BMX; swimming at least the men’s 100m freestyle; and, shooting the men’s trap. That would have seen 10 – the actual AOC prediction.

An interesting comparison is between Australia and Great Britain and their respective home Olympics. GB won just six more medals at their home Games than did Australia in Sydney. Out of those medals, they won 29 gold compared to 16 (with 25 silver). Of course, neither of these compare to Spain’s result in Barcelona: 13 gold, 7 silver, 2 bronze. Now that’s a conversion rate. The official IOC predictions were practically spot on for total medals in London. GB did finish with 64, while Australia was 4 shy of the 39. The big error was the nature of those medals: GB won 29 gold, not 19, while Australia won 7, not 10.

AUSTRALIA’S FINAL MEDAL TALLY

Sailing 3 1 0 – 4
Swimming 1 6 3 – 10
Cycling 1 2 3 – 6
Athletics* 1 2 0 – 3
Kayak/Canoe 1 1 0 – 2
Rowing 0 3 2 – 5
Diving 0 1 0 – 1
Triathlon 0 0 1 – 1
Water polo 0 0 1 – 1
Field hockey 0 0 1 – 1
Basketball 0 0 1 – 1

Total* 7 16 12 – 35

THE FUTURE

Already most sports are conducting major reviews, especially swimming, while the Australian Sports commission will conduct a review. The broad issue is of directing money. Australia spent $310mil for 7 gold out of 35 medals (16 silver, 12 bronze); Britain spent $390mil for 29 gold out of 56 medals (17 silver, 19 bronze). Something clearly went wrong. You see a nation like Kazakhstan win 7 gold (1 silver, 5 bronze), with 4 from weight-lifting, including 3 by women. Korea exploited archery, fencing and shooting to help build their 13 gold. Britain took 8 gold from cycling, 5 from rowing, 4 from athletics and 3 from boxing and equestrian. Note that their swimmers failed, cycling and rowing still missed a few, sailing was unlucky with 4 silver, and their hot favourite in women’s triathlon came fifth. New Zealand targeted, and exploited, rowing for 3 of their six gold.

It’s not even about total gold medals, it’s about efficiency. Comments from the AOC that Australia should aim for top 5 on the medal tally is nonsense. The more medals won actually diminishes their value. Ironically, most Australians could name every gold medal at these Games. Could the British do so with their 29 gold? Had Australia won 15 or 20 gold, would our superb sailors get the adulation and credit they deserved? No. Winning between 5 and 10 is probably the right balance. More importantly it is that the athletes must perform and that ratio of medals is roughly equal. Because, as much as commentators and media and some athletes praised the silver medals as great results, the tune quickly changed once Slingsby, Meares and Pearson won gold.

Australia also makes the mistake of spreading funding around too broadly. Team sports should rely more on their own and funding based more on public participation. Depending on the sport, twenty athletes in a final Olympics squad, plus the massive program to support them, all for a chance to win 1 gold medal per event. In swimming, one athlete can win 6 individual gold, as we’ve seen with Michael Phelps. The public just see the gold, and individuals are far easier to laud as heroes. Only aficionados of the sport could care if basketball or water polo won a gold. Look to football, who even cared that Australia didn’t make it?

Within a sport, there are ways to be smarter. Holland and swimming, they only pour money into shorter freestyle events. With that you might get a butterflyer and a decent medley relay. Otherwise, you get 50, 100, 200 and 4×100 relay events. In Sydney they won 5 gold from 2 athletes (and 3 more gold from 1 cyclist). In London they won 2 gold and were the shock losers to Australia in the women’s 4×100 relay. Spending money on longer distance swimming and there’s really only the 1500, maybe the 400 for a special athlete. Note that of the apparent legend status of Kieren Perkins, he never won Olympic 400m. No point in lamenting that Australia is now a dud at distance events. Much more worthwhile to lament the dud results in the shorter and far more numerous shorter events with a far greater depth of talent.

Athletics is the other big sport for scrutiny. Before Pearson’s gold was Cathy Freeman’s in 2000 then Debbie Flintoff in 1988. That’s a twelve year cycle, and note that the men have won none on the track, and only Steve Hooker’s 2008 pole vault is the only success of anyone in the field. That is absolutely appalling for a sport that gets $31mil and returned just two medals at these Games at $15.5mil a pop and barely got anyone else into a final. Before 1988, Glynis Nunn won heptathlon in the boycott-hit 1984 Games, and then you need to revisit 1968 for the last success. In fact, one of the two gold there was Ralph Doubell in the 800m, and he still holds the Australian record. Reprehensible. Like swimming, athletics will still be funded because it’s so high profile. It just needs better accountability.

– All figures on Olympic funding courtesy of The Age newspaper, 11/08/2012

* Jared Tallent’s silver medal in the 50km Walk was upgraded to Gold in early 2016 after the Russian winner was disqualified for drug use. Australia’s final tally is 8 Gold, 15 Silver and 12 Bronze, with Athletics returning 2 Gold and 1 Silver.

THE HAPPY AND GLORIOUS GAMES

It not just about Australia, and this Olympic Games was the first one that you actually really experience. Thanks to the eight channels on Foxtel, Australia’s woes were made trivial next to the overwhelmingly glorious sporting spectacle on offer. While channel 9 only offered the gold medal race in the sailing events, those on pay-tv could keep track of the entire regatta, where the real drama lay. While Australia were largely untouchable by the time of their 3 Gold Medal races, other classes went down to the wire. China won the women’s laser in a virtual four-boat match race, Sweden stole gold from Britain in the Star class thanks to a late windshift, New Zealand kept the Brits aside in the women’s 470, and Britain’s Ben Ainslie won his fourth straight Olympic gold after a monumental battle against Denmark. Look to cycling, rowing and even swimming, where Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte, at just 15 years old, won the 100m breast-stroke, holding off American world champion Rebecca Soni. Amazing. Thanks to twitter, you get a direct feeling of her emotions too. These additions just made the experience so fabulous.

For me, mornings were used to watch the overnight recording of channel 9’s telecast and certain sporting sessions on Foxtel, with early afternoon reserved to watch repeated sporting sessions on Foxtel or a recording. By 4 or 5 PM it was a few hours catching up on the internet, reading newspapers both here and the UK, twitter feeds and viewing videos and photos from AOC and London2012 websites. At around 7pm was “off-peak” where only the odd rowing or kayak final or some basketball could drag major attention, before sailing was on at around 10pm. Around midnight was another small off-peak period where I could explore and catch up with other parts of life (like showering!), before bed time around 2 to 3am. It was full on.

The best Olympics ever? Before London I had Barcelona and Sydney as joint equal. Barcelona was the Games where Australia began to come of age, the boycott era was an extra 4 years behind, and who could forget some of the iconic images like the Olympic Flame lit via the archer’s arrow and the outdoor swimming pool? Sydney regaled most in national pride and setting a benchmark for following Games. London exceeded that, and put on a far superior sporting spectacular. While that’s no doubt aided by far greater exposure of the sporting contest, the host nation themselves performed so well, they produced iconic moments, plus the city itself was majestic in its deliverance. Easily the best Olympic Games ever.

England-Who too classy for Socceroos

28 May 2016

It’s a sign of the times when the England XI contains only one recognisable name in Danny Drinkwater. That was only because I’d tuned into two of Leicester City’s late season games as they won that memorable English Premier League title. On the bench was Wayne Rooney, the only surviving member when the two teams last met – a 3-1 loss in London in 2003. That was about it. With the A-League growing and becoming more and more relevant to Australians, the English Premier League has taken a backseat in this small realm of the universe. Perhaps it’s even beyond the backseat and now dragging along the road from the back of a trailer.

Wayne Rooney scores England's second goal vs Australia, Sunderland, 2016-05-27

Wayne Rooney scores England’s second goal vs Australia, Sunderland, 2016-05-27 (image: theguardian.com)

More than 2003, this match was experimental: England in preparation for Euro 2016; Australia for World Cup qualifiers in September. While Australia were at full strength in 2003, in 2016 they were without 6 players from Asian leagues. This match was not on an official FIFA international window. England were also experimental, making 8 changes from their 2-1 win last week against Turkey. It wasn’t as bad as 2003 when the entire team were changed at half time. Even then, come the 60th minute, the game fell apart, as is often the case with these types of matches, when both teams made an endless stream of substitutions.

It was a disastrous and unlucky start for Australia, conceding just after two minutes when Marcus Rashford (who?) scored from close range from a deflected cross. Raheem Sterling (who?) also nearly got on the end of a good ball after 35 minutes. Otherwise, Australia dominated possession for much of the rest of the half, without creating many serious chances. They started just as well in the second half, only to be hit on the counter attack on 55 minutes with Wayne Rooney blasting home from just outside the box. Australia snuck one back on 75 minutes after substitute Eric Dier (who?) scored a poor own goal.

For all of Australia’s pressing, Fraser Forster (who?) only had one serious save for the match – that, late, off Robbie Kruse – as Australia remained poor with their final passes and shooting. Kruse was decidedly off for the night, while Tom Rogic returned to old habits of fluffing too many good shooting chances. Massimo Luongo seemed lost at times. Easily the best player was Aaron Mooy, who’s passing, vision and thought processes often seemed miles ahead of his team-mates’.

Overall, a decent effort and 2-1 a fair result. Australia need to do more with possession to really take the next step as a serious international team. England constantly looked dangerous on the break, as we’ve already seen with Asian teams exploiting Australia’s gameplan. Possession is useless if you do nothing with it, and by the game’s end England led that statistic anyway, 51-49.

It’s now two matches at home against Greece for Australia, the first next Saturday, and hopefully it’s solid performances from a solid test with solid results.

Summary

2016-05-27
Stadium of Light, Sunderland
England 2 – M. Rashford (3′), W. Rooney (55′)
Australia 1 –  E. Dier (75′, OG)

Full Report and Highlights

Kruse to the next phase; Japan await yet again

17 April 2016

With comfortable wins over Kyrgyzstan and Bangladesh following the loss in Jordan, Australia’s final two matches at home were mostly academic. Two draws most likely would have been sufficient to qualify for the third round and final group phase of World Cup qualifying, while a win would guarantee it. Tajikistan proved to offer minimal resistance, losing 7-0 in Adelaide, while Jordan weren’t much better in their 5-1 loss in Sydney. Tajikistan conceded within 3 minutes and then another on 13 minutes before a 5-goal onslaught in the second half. Jordan lasted until the 24th minute before conceding, then conceded another two just before half time. Game over. For Jordan, after losing in Kyrgyzstan two games earlier and now requiring a win to guarantee a spot in the next round, it was heartbreaking. Remember, this was the team that made the intercontinental play-off in the last cycle.

Russia 2018 Asian World Cup Qualifying - Group B - Final Table

Most interesting to observe from these final two games was the team’s progression. They have had trouble putting teams away, and been dumb strategically. They were also too reliant on the aging Tim Cahill. Other players needed to step up, while the team needed to be smarter in their approach. Preferring more often to take the game to opponents, particularly away in the Middle East, it played into the hands of opponents, who’d sit back and pounce on the counter attack. Australia needs to remember that their opponents also are in it to win it, so away from home, let them be more adventurous and hit them on the break. Against Jordan, that philosophy was illustrated perfectly, and the results were comprehensive. They turned around a 2-0 loss away to a 5-1 win by simply allowing their opponents force some of the pressure.

Even more exciting was the improvement in many players. Robbie Kruse, who was finally back after a long injury spell, toyed with Jordan. It was one of his best games for Australia ever, and only dampened by a nasty tackle from behind by Jordan’s Yousef al Rawashde. How it wasn’t a red was mystifying. Even worse would have been another injury. Jordan were so rattled that they even threw a second ball on the field at one stage to stop a quick throw in. It failed miserably as Australia scored their fifth goal. Tom Rogic, now established in Scotland, has added a lethal shot and far superior decision making to his game. The three goals he scored in those two games were superb. Melbourne City’s Aaron Mooy has taken command in midfield, setting up and scoring goals. His passing is sublime, at a level not really seen in the Socceroos since Ned Zelic, or Milan Ivanovic with some of the long passing. Coach Ange Postecoglou even unearthed a bright new talent in Apostolos Giannou. He got his debut against Tajikistan, impressed with his pace and power, and only letdown by missing a sitter. He deserved a goal. Another letdown, becoming persistent too, is Matthew Leckie. He seems to have lost the plot, particularly with final balls into the box and shooting.

Onwards to the draw for the final group phase of qualifying. It’s no secret that the Socceroo Realm, as would many Australians, would love to see Australia play Iran again. It’s been nearly 20 years since the infamous Iran Game. Much of the chatter before the Jordan game was for Australia to win it to ensure a seeding as one of the top two teams. Supposedly that would avoid a tougher draw – based on FIFA rankings. No it wouldn’t, because FIFA rankings are a joke in their creation, and meaningless in a competitive field. Australia, Iran, Japan and Korea are arguably the top four teams in Asia and there’s little between them whatever some silly FIFA number sitting next to them wants to make us believe. In drawing the final two groups, two of these top four would play each other regardless. The only exception being that the top seed in each pot would not play each other. So for Australia to have a random chance at either Iran, Japan or Korea, they needed not to be seeded. As it turns out, they were one of the top two seeds. Guess which was the other? Iran. Depressing, and rigged. The top four should have been in one pot and randomly paired that way. In fact, the other 8 teams should be in one pot too, and randomly drawn. There should not be such a strict interpretation of these dopey FIFA rankings.

Immediately we knew Australia could not play Iran, so let’s hope we at least draw some new teams. We haven’t played Korea at all in World Cup qualifying since our entry into Asia, and drawing them would add to the rivalry generated from the epic Asian Cup 2015 final. Except for an early group phase two cycles ago, we’ve missed China too. Alas, nothing went our way. We got Japan for the third straight cycle, Thailand and three Middle Eastern teams. The only salvation is that Saudi Arabia is back on the ascend, so they should be interesting. UAE are on the rise too, finishing third in the Asian Cup. Iraq is the other team, who finished fourth in the Asian Cup, and can be dangerous. It’s a challenging draw.

Schedule

01 Sep 2016: Australia vs Iraq
06 Sep 2016: UAE vs Australia
06 Oct 2016: Saudi Arabia vs Australia
11 Oct 2016: Australia vs Japan
15 Nov 2016: Thailand vs Australia
23 Mar 2017: Iraq vs Australia
28 Mar 2017: Australia vs UAE
13 Jun 2017: Australia vs Saudi Arabia
13 Aug 2017: Japan vs Australia
05 Sep 2017: Australia vs Thailand

Note that there are six teams in each group, up from five from previous years. Obviously this is to allow more teams to be involved. It also means no more byes. The away trip to Japan is the second last match day, which could affect its prestige if both teams are safely qualified. The top two teams from each group automatically qualify for Russia 2018, with the two third teams playing off for a spot against CONCACAF’s fourth best team. That third-placed playoff is actually the only way Australia and Iran can meet in this World Cup qualifying cycle. Could it happen?

Round 2 Group Winners

Group A: Saudi Arabia
Group B: Australia
Group C: Qatar
Group D: Iran
Group E: Japan
Group F: Thailand
Group G: Korea Republic
Group H: Uzbekistan

Round 2 Best Second-Placed Teams

1. Iraq
2. Syria
3. United Arab Emirates
4. China

Round 3 Group Draw

Group A: Iran, Korea Republic, Uzbekistan, China, Qatar, Syria

Group B: Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Thailand

More: http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/preliminaries/asia/

Socceroo Realm – Top 5 Moments of 2015

01 January 2016

Since the completion of the Asian Cup in January, it’s been a very quiet year for the Socceroo Realm. While the Women’s World Cup provided a tournament highlight mid-year, the U20 and U17 Men’s World Cups practically went unnoticed. The U20 for a reason: Australia didn’t even qualify. The U17s had an evolving problem.

During the dark days, during Australia’s time in Oceania, youth tournaments were a much needed solace for fans starved of international action. Otherwise, it was two serious World Cup qualifying games every four years. Nowadays, in Asia, the Socceroos are in action far, far more, to the point I barely watched 10 minutes of the U17 World Cup in Chile. I’d feel embarrassed if I was alone, that the tournament was well hyped and I simply ignored. I wasn’t alone. Even SBS couldn’t be bothered showing an evening’s highlight package. I had to check right now that Nigeria beat Mali in the final, while Serbia beat Brazil to win the U20 World Cup that was held in New Zealand.

Socceroo Realm - Australian Soccer / Football

1) Australia wins the Asian Cup

Easily the top moment of this year. It was a brilliant tournament, with a thrilling final and, obviously, a great result. More than that, it raised the profile of coach Ange Postecoglou into almost a messiah. We await for him to qualify the Socceroos for Russia 2018 and do much better than the three losses suffered at Brazil 2014.

2) The Women’s World Cup

Expanded to 24 teams and held in Canada, it proved a thrilling tournament. Not least that the Matildas did so well, with a memorable win over Brazil in the 1/8 final, thanks to a late goal by Kyah Simon. Even though they failed to inspire when losing the quarter final to Japan, the tournament itself became more exciting with pulsating knockout games and a rampant USA demolishing Japan in the final after Carli Lloyd scored a hat-trick in the first 16 minutes.

3) Jordan beating Australia in World Cup qualifying… again

Australia went into Asia for competition. We should hope it is tough, and demand it so, and not throw a tantrum and say “we should be beating these teams”. No, we should not be beating these teams. It’s football. The beauty of the game is that anything can happen. Ironically, Jordan’s win wasn’t really a case of “anything can happen”, since they won the last time when the two countries played in Amman. The fascinating aspect of this match and watching our fears materialised right before our eyes. Here’s another nugget to chew on: if we don’t miss qualifying for the occasional World Cup, then our role in Asia is failing. We are there to be mutually beneficial, which means to help improve the standard in Asia, which in turns forces Australia to improve.

4) Australia losing to Korea at the Asian Cup

A gripping match, even for a group game, that made the rematch in the final all the more exciting. Excuses did pour that Australia could have, should have, would have won. Nag, nag, nag. We Australians really must lose this arrogance of superiority, at least when it comes to football. Ultimately, losing probably helped by removing any complacency.

5) Australia beating China at the Asian Cup

With one billion Chinese watching, this quarter final was highly anticipated. Sadly for the Chinese, Australia put on a clinical display, which included a spectacular overhead goal by Tim Cahill.

Honourable Mention…

Even though the Socceroo Realm doesn’t rate “friendly” international matches, coach Ange Postecoglou rated the 2-2 draw in Germany in March as his highlight of the year: “Being champions of your region is one thing but we wanted to gain respect beyond that. It wasn’t that we got a draw, it was the manner that we got it. We played the world champions on their home soil and took the game to them. We scored two goals, could have had a couple more and didn’t take a backwards step. It gave the players a real belief that the way we play our football and our philosophy would serve us well as we build as a team, and I got a lot of satisfaction from seeing the belief flow into the players and the staff.”

It was a good result. Feelings of dread set in once Australia conceded after only 17 minutes. Big credit to the team that they didn’t fold, instead taking the lead after goals on 40 and 50 minutes, and only conceding the equaliser in the last 10 minutes.

2016

The final round robin of World Cup qualifying awaits, with Australia almost certainly through to that. It’s expanded to six teams per group, so potentially will be tougher than ever. Mid-year we have my other passion outside of the Socceroos: the Olympics! Let’s hope Australia qualify for that. Already there are problems with the qualifying tournament being held outside FIFA international dates, so the Olyroos is without many of its better players. As fans, we ask that it’s taken seriously, not like the disaster of four years ago when the team couldn’t even score a goal in the six matches of its final group phase.

Happy New Year!

Full site: socceroorealm.com