Note to couch commentators: Olympians are people too

Border Mail Column, Wednesday 4 July 2012

We are in the midst of the late night-early morning sportscasts and have witnessed Black Caviar’s narrow win at Ascot, the early exit of our tennis players at Wimbledon and the start of the gruelling Tour de France with Cadel Evans our great hope.

The countdown to the Olympics is on.

I must have been one of few Australians who didn’t sit up for Black Caviar’s history making run,(and who felt like a traitor), but hope I wasn’t in the minority to not expect an apology from jockey Luke Nolen, when the mare ‘just won’ by a nose.

In interviews after the race, Nolen took the blame for what he termed was a ‘rookie mistake.’

But, did he need to apologise, and why are we so quick to judge our sporting stars, human or animal?

To the world, we are seen as a sports-obsessed nation. Statistics show that once a week 70 per cent of Australians take part in some form of physical activity for exercise, recreation and sport, but our propensity to be quick to criticise marks us as a nation of couch commentators.

Sam Stosur’s Wimbledon campaign was short-lived, but longer than that of her compatriots including Lleyton Hewitt and Bernard Tomic.

Stosur comfortably disposed of her Spanish opponent, Carlo Suarez Navarro, 6-1, 6-3 in her first round Wimbledon match that must have been such a relief for her after her unexpected defeat in the semi-final of the French Open.

Speaking after that match, Stosur was at a loss to explain the result, but a radio sports commentator back home was quick to give this response.

‘She let herself down. She let her country down.’ Oh, Sam how could you?

It is a wonder she can pick up her racquet when she has the weight of a nation’s expectations on her shoulders; a weight now upon Cadel Evans, and soon to pass to the Australian Olympic team when it competes in London.

The outcome of Stosur’s Wimbledon campaign is history, and almost forgotten in the hype of the build up of what our team can achieve.

In Sydney and Athens, I worked as a senior media officer with the Australian Olympic team that gave me the opportunity to be at close quarters with the athletes, their coaches and athlete liaison officers (ALO’s) who provided mentorship and emotional support for team members.

The ALO’s role is vital because despite years of dedication and training, things do not always go to plan for our athletes.

It is in these circumstances their experience helps an athlete get through a heartbreaking experience like Jane Saville’s when she was disqualified in the women’s 20 kilometre walk event in Sydney.

In an interview the next day for the team publication, ASPIRE, Saville told me she was philosophical about the error, but excited about her upcoming wedding.

In Athens, we all held our breath then let out a collective sigh of relief as she finished in the bronze medal position in that same event.

Then there was the so-called ‘lay down Sally’ incident, where women’s rowing eight team member, Sally Robbins, stopped rowing and dropped her oar.

After a sleepless night, the team along with its athlete liaison officer and former Wallaby captain, John Eales, and AOC media director, Mike Tancred fronted the press conference.

There were suggestions that the team was coerced to hold the conference and coached in what they should say.

Tancred told the conference that members of the team were human and not robots.

When the Olympics begin and we are tempted to coach from the couch, we should remember this.
Border Mail Wednesday 4 July 2012

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About Robyne Young

Writer, creative writing teacher, editor, columnist. Literary lover. Short story collections, The Only Constant and The Basket and the Briefcase available via website.
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