It’s a routine we’ve made our own. On Day One of Olympics competition, we head to the pool and plunder its gold. But coming in to the last event of the day, Team Down Under was in very foreign territory – completely and utterly medalless. Our great hope Stephanie Rice had given it her all but a persistent shoulder injury, perhaps aggravated by constantly tweeting photos of herself in her togs, prevented her from successfully defending her 400-metre individual medley title.
Rice had given plenty of hints she wasn’t in the best nick. After a nervous heat swim, she said she’d be happy with any medal at these Games. Aussie viewers collectively went phht and waited for her to blitz the field in the final. This was our Black Caviar of the pool, after all. Put the chick in a race and she doesn’t know how to lose.
But lose she did, gallantly, tearfully and in a colossal amount of pain. In the men’s event, American superfish Michael Phelps, lucky to make the final at all, met a similar fate. He missed the podium for the first time in his Olympic career, unceremoniously dethroned by teammate Ryan Lochte.
Elsewhere in the pool, it was largely a case of an Asian new guard emerging. But in the dying hours of Day One, the Aussies found their Olympic mojo. Team Down Under wasn’t expected to win the women’s 4×100-metre relay over their favoured Dutch and American rivals but someone forgot to pass on the script to Alicia Coutts, Cate Campbell, Brittany Elmslie and Melanie Schlanger. The girls came home in a nail biter, as my pre-dawn whoop-whoops woke my daughter and possibly half the neighbourhood. The Aussies were on the board at last.
No such luck for the home team on Day One. After a cracking opening ceremony, I was actually feeling some goodwill towards the Brits. Don’t worry, I snapped out of it when Team GB, hotly favoured to take out the men’s road race, actually blamed the Aussies when they failed to convert expectations. UK sprinter Mark Cavendish said we raced negatively. Not a word in our vocabulary, mate. You might have noticed the bright yellow bottom that finished sixth. That was an Aussie. And since when was it our job to win your medals for you, you big sook?
On Day Two, Team Down Under extended its medal haul to one of each colour. Christian Sprenger was stoked beyond measure with his silver in the 100-metre breaststroke final, after finishing 14th in Beijing. When he saw he’d gone under 59 seconds, he promptly broke into a dignified man blub. Alicia Coutts was back on the dais, picking up a bronze in the 100-metre butterfly despite being last at the turn and swallowing a mouthful of water 15 metres out.
In a shock result, our men’s 4×100-metre freestyle relay team, hopeful of gold in a world record time, missed the podium altogether. After the heats, James Magnussen had promised “something pretty quick tonight” but leading out for the Aussies, he swam almost a second under his best time and it all went downhill from there. Magnussen, usually a picture of soaring self-belief, was shattered by the result and we can only hope he turns it into something special in the individual event later in the week. As some consolation, it was a race in which we were treated to a smorgasbord of naked male torsos following the banning of the full body fast suits and isn’t that a wonderful sight?
Diesel Leisel Jones answered the “is the fit or is she fat” critics in the 100-metre breaststroke semis. For the record, she’s fit and into the final. As is Emily Seebohm, as the fastest qualifier in the 100-metre backstroke.
Team GB bounced back on Day Two, with Lizzie Armistead taking out silver in the women’s road race in wet and treacherous conditions with a few hailstones thrown in, while in the pool defending 400-metre freestyle champ Rebecca Adlington won herself a bronze this time around. Day Two also saw the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Phillips make her Olympics debut in horsey ballet on her aptly named steed High Kingdom, with Mum and Gramps looking on. She finished a creditable 24th in the first of three equestrian disciplines. The Brits are placed third in the eventing competition, chasing Germany and Team Down Under.
At the end of Day Two, it’s China well out in front of the medal tally with 6 gold, followed by the US on 3 and, oddly enough, Italy on 2. Team Down Under is in 8thplace and Team GB lies in 16th.
That’s the spirit!
We reserve this section for those who typify the Olympic spirit.
Firstly, hats off to the Queen for her turn as the latest Bond girl in the opening ceremony. What a class act. How she kept her composure on Daniel Craig’s arm is beyond me.
Then there’s Irish gymnast Kieran Behan, who has overcome more than the standard injuries to realise his Olympic dream. Confined to a wheelchair first by a leg tumour and then by a brain injury, it’s a wonder Kieran is walking, let alone flipping and twirling and doing all those gravity defying gymnasty things. “I’ve got the luck of the Irish on my side, most definitely,” he says and by that he means his luck is good. Unfortunately, the occasion got the better of the lad but he’s setting his sights on Rio. And hoping the body behaves itself.
And finally, US swimmer Dana Vollmer had to carry a defibrillator with her to competition and practice sessions as a teenager after she was diagnosed with a severe heart condition. “I’d rather swim dying than not swim at all,” she said at the time. A few hours ago, she was crowned the 100-metre butterfly Olympic champion in a new world record.
A new Wa-Wa Knee crowned
Since Jana Pittman’s knee antics in Athens in 2004, we have searched forlornly for an Aussie athlete to take her drama queen mantle. Tamsyn Lewis gave it a crack at the 2008 Games, accusing her fellow runners of being drug cheats, but proved a rank amateur against Pittman’s headline grabbing prowess.
Going into 2012, we wondered if we would ever see Pittman’s like again. Sadly, it seemed we would be denied this particular brand of Olympic entertainment in London.
Enter John Steffensen – why is it always the runners? – all cranky pants at not being selected for an individual run in the 400 metres. We thought it had something to do with the fact he didn’t run the qualifying time but Steffo says no, it’s because Athletics Australia is racist. He was allowed to tweet his Olympic boycott threats for a few days before Chef de Mission Nick Green told him to put a sock in it. Shutting up not being Steffo’s strongest suit, we look forward to further fevered contemplations from him over the coming days.
Did you know?
It takes James Magnussen four hours to do a full body shave for competition. Where do I apply?
They said it
“I got no response really. I don’t know what happened.” James Magnussen after the Aussie fellas failed to podium in the 4×100-metre freestyle relay.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun in my life. And that was before I knew we’d won the gold medal.” Cate Campbell after the Aussie chicks won gold in the 4×100-metre freestyle relay.
“My suggestion would be that you get into the village and put your head down and your bum up and just concentrate on your job.” Aussie Chef de Mission Nick Green calls an end to John Steffensen’s dummy spit.
“What we needed was a couple of guys to help us. Every other team was riding to slash our race.” British cyclist David Millar has a chin wobble after Team GB failed to win the men’s road race.
“We did everything we could but the Aussies just raced negatively.” More Team GB sooky-la-la, this time from sprinter Mark Cavendish.
“It’s not rocket science to counter what Mark has said – we had someone in the breakaway. We had no need to contribute to the chase today.” Cycling Australia road director Matt White gives Mark Cavendish a lesson in cycling tactics 101.
“It’s actually the best thing that could have happened to me. So thanks a lot, it fired me up.” Diesel Leisel Jones answers recent ‘fat’ gibes with a strong 100-metre breaststroke heat.