A couple of weeks ago, when Andy Murray became the first Brit in living memory to reach a Wimbledon final, UK writer A.A. Gill pondered the alarming repercussions of the Scot actually winning.
“The British have become supremely good at failing to win,” he wrote. “We joke about it. We are comfortable with it. We have the weather for it… But if Murray, by some kismet, some destiny-swerving fluke, grabs this one, well, who knows what will happen. It could do critical damage to the national psyche.”
At the time, Bradley Wiggins had just pulled on the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. Frankly, you’d be hard pressed to find a more unlikely athlete. Lanky, pasty and with some freakishly untethered sideburnage, he looks more like a Merchant Ivory extra. Or Dick Dastardly. I can’t decide which. But certainly not an elite athlete.
Yet there he was, hogging the yellow jersey, for two weeks as it turned out, all the time drawing further away from last year’s winner, Aussie Cadel Evans, and the rest of the field as we watched with incredulity the rare spectacle of an all-conquering Pom. Two of them, if you can believe it. I couldn’t.
It just wasn’t right.
Yes, we can content ourselves with the knowledge that it was Aussie teammates Michael Rogers and Richie Porte who hauled Wiggins’ scrawny butt over the Alps and the Pyrenees for three weeks, leaving him fresh as a daisy for Saturday’s time trial.
And we can point to the fact that Wiggins got his cycling genes from his Aussie dad, notwithstanding their fractured relationship. Asked several days ago what his late father would have made of him winning the Tour, he answered: “It depends on whether he was sober.” Gazza Wiggins, it seems, liked to party hard, even by Australian standards.
But we can’t escape the fact that a Pom has won a major international sporting event. It may not be Wimbledon, their hallowed Holy Grail, the one they really want, but it’s big. And for A.A. Gill and his countrymen, it must pose similar problems to those that a Murray win threatened just two weeks ago.
Being primarily a restaurant critic, Gill recalled the “cloying, sickly taste of victory” when Britain won the 1966 World Cup (see how far back into the archives they have to reach for their sporting glories). We Aussies don’t have such squeamish palates. For us, victory is a national dish and we chow down on it at every opportunity. We’ll eat it grilled, fried, baked, barbecued, sautéed, crumbed, pureed or in a milkshake. Often at the expense of a Pom. This is the natural order of things.
Wiggins’ success threatens this equilibrium. Not so much for us. We’ll always find something to win. It’s in our DNA. But how does Britain, a nation so unaccustomed to victory, its texture and its sinew, digest such a rich dish without rupturing an intestinal wall?
An even greater catastrophe looms just days away. In foolhardy fashion, the Brits have spent a small fortune to deliver a batch of gold medal victories at their home Olympics. There is no way the Poms are ready for such unbridled success. I see a scene from The Meaning of Life unfolding. You know the one I’m talking about.
Fortunately, Team Australia is there to keep things in check. We’ll turn ourselves inside out to ensure the Brits don’t gorge themselves on this foreign tucker. We might have a smaller team and a leaner budget but we have more than a passing acquaintance with this cuisine and we’re anatomically equipped to deal with its complexities.
So fear not, A.A. Gill. You stick with your bangers and mash. Leave the morsels of victory to us. We’ve got the stomach for it. And we know which fork to use.