Another big medal haul for AussiesOn 08/30/2019 by admin
The back-slapping, however, hasn\’t lasted long.
Within a few months of the flame being extinguished, the satisfaction over a Games well played has been replaced by concern that this time, the party may really be over for the country that has always done better than it really should.
It is the same concern expressed mid-Games by Australian Olympic Committee chief John Coates.
At a point in the Beijing Games when Australian performance was at a worrying low, Coates took the opportunity to implore the federal government to do something about funding or things would become even worse.
As it turned out, things became considerably better without any extra money as Australia moved up to sixth on the medals table with 14 golds and 46 medals overall.
The Games that had looked somewhat dismal for Australia towards the end of the first week picked up nicely in the second and finished with an incredible flourish thanks largely to the gold medals won by Steve Hooker and Matthew Mitcham.
But within weeks of the end of the Olympic year, the gloom has again descended.
The source of it is Britain, the country that made so much of finishing above Australia in the Beijing medal tally.
The Brits have announced they are spending $570 million to prepare their athletes for the London Games.
Australia will spend $230 million on elite sports in the lead-up to 2012 and will pay its top athletes a wage on top of that.
More may yet be provided by the federal government, but in the current economic climate, it will be difficult to justify spending another $100 million or so on something that can be as hard to quantify as winning gold medals.
Britain will undoubtedly win more gold medals than Australia in London, no matter how much we, or they, spend.
But Beijing still held out plenty of hope for Australia.
Half of Australia\’s 14 gold medals went to athletes competing at their first Olympic Games, and all but three of them were under 23.
From Mitcham\’s amazing piece of last gasp perfection in diving to Stephanie Rice\’s three golds and three world records in the pool, it is the youngest members of its team that Australia has to thank for success in Beijing.
Hooker and Mitcham deserve no greater share of Olympic glory than any of Australia\’s other 12 Olympic gold medallists in Beijing.
Yet their efforts seemed to add magic to an Australian effort that looked decidedly shaky after the first week.
On the penultimate night of competition, Hooker, who scrambled through most of the pole vault competition but soared when it mattered most, became Australia\’s first male track and field gold medallist in 40 years.
The following night, Mitcham produced the finest dive ever seen at an Olympic Games to claim a gold medal that hardly ever seemed likely.
Their Olympic titles came on top of a typically classy performance by Australia\’s women swimmers and its rowers.
It also came despite the failure of both the cyclists and the male swimmers who couldn\’t win a gold medal between them, having claimed nine in Athens.
Mitcham\’s gold medal in the 10m platform rates as one of the greatest Australian moments of the Games.
Mitcham\’s victory came with a manoeuvre known in the text book as dive 5255B – a back 2-1/2 somersault with 2-1/2 twists in the pike position.
It is one of the most difficult dives in the book – and Mitcham nailed it.
He scored 112.1 points, the most ever given to an Olympic diver, to overcome a seemingly impossible 30-point deficit going into the final round.
Mitcham may not have evoked the exuberance of Usain Bolt\’s devastating performances on the track, but it wasn\’t a long way off it.
Similarly, Hooker\’s winning vault didn\’t necessarily earn him worldwide attention, but it was miraculous.
Hooker pulled off the gold-medal vault after missing the same height with his first two attempts.
For sheer numbers, and class, Rice was unsurpassed in the Australian team.
The swim queen won all three of her events, each in world record time.
Rice ended the Games as the most celebrated woman swimmer in the world and the most accomplished.
Like Mitcham and Hooker, she was making her Olympic debut.
As were triathlon gold medallists Emma Snowsill, women\’s 470 sailors Elise Rechichi and Tessa Parkinson and kayaker Ken Wallace.
For Coates, the success came after he launched a concerted campaign for more government funding.
“If anyone thinks supporting our elite athletes isn\’t worthwhile, giving young Australians a chance to optimise their performances, to perform on the world stage, have a look at these guys,” Coates said.
“And there\’s many more of them back home.”
There will need to be at least a few if the momentum is to be maintained until 2012.
Australia lost its place among the world\’s top five Olympic nations to Britain and will be under additional pressure in London from such European nations as Italy, France, Ukraine and Spain who finished just behind it on the Beijing medal table.
Australia has also put in some work in the boardroom in preparation for London, announcing last month an upgrade to the incentive payments for athletes.
The AOC has announced a $30 million funding package for London of which $16.7 million will be spent on preparations and $13.4 million for the Games themselves.
While the athletes will receive more, their coaches are to get less.
“While we acknowledge the hard work, dedication and outstanding results achieved by our coaches, the athletes must get priority in these tough economic times,” Coates said.
It is expected Australia will send 400 athletes to London, 35 fewer than in 2008, but there will be two fewer sports on the Olympic program.
As unsporting as it may seem, they will almost certainly return with fewer gold medals than they did from Beijing.
If it matters.