Gee I am glad that the Olympics are over. I didn’t even watch any of it. I just caught glimpses here and there. And my pleasure in their culmination is not just because all the good tele shows will be back this week - Welcome back to my life Gogglebox!.
Obsessions of any sort, notably of a consuming nature, are usually not healthy things. Trust me, I’ve got a few. And the drive to win gold, laced with a desperation often reflected in mass consumption and psychological battering, has made the Olympic Games one of my least favourite spectacles.
I get that as a young nation, sport is something us Australians hold dear to our sense of national identity. That sport has become a large part of how we tell our young story to ourselves and to others. It’s almost become myth-like. And I get that as a result the Olympics offer us Australians a definitional point. A way to show us through the medal tally, where we are positioned in the world.
But the obsession seems gets to a point of absurdity and disgust, too early, every time.
I didn’t watch much of the Olympics for a number of reasons. I tried to avoid it because I feel that I can’t help but fall into the trap of individual comparison. It’s hard to ignore the shame that comes with the fact that there are 16 year olds competing for world records and I’m really struggling to get through the whole day without a nap. Oh wow, that person can swim really, really, really fast. That’s amazing. They’d have to have been in training for years to have done that. Oh my, the commitment. Don’t swimmers have to get up at like 3am in the morning? I could never do that, I love sleeping. Maybe it’s not too late in the day for a nap. Actually it probably is. I could never be an athlete. Would get in the way of my napping. I wonder if I nap too much? Have I had a day this week without a nap after work? Does it matter? Am I becoming a lazy sloth? Etc etc.
So I didn’t watch much. I was mostly napping. But I did listen to bits. And I also asked others who watched it, what they thought about it. And the thing that really irritates me is the language that’s used to describe how ‘we’ were going. It was all the same. Words like “disappointing”. “Sad”. Even, “shameful”.
I listened to the commentary following the final of the 100m freestyle in which the Australian sisters Cate and Bronte Campbell were swimming. The opening line was “agony at the Olympic pool”. A newspaper article on the swim mentioned “broken hearts” in the title and went on to say this:
This was to be Australia's lock-down gold medal of the pool. This was to be the culmination of years of dedication, sacrifice and torture above the black line. This was unthinkable.
Neither of these girls won the gold medal. They placed fourth and sixth, with the newspaper article offering up this final piece of advice:
Both women have the 50m freestyle to come, as well as a medley relay. Whether they can swim with broken hearts will be the greatest challenge of their careers.
Apparently, in the ancient Olympic games there were no medals. Athletes were celebrated for their attempts to achieve Arête, or sporting excellence, through the mutual quest for excellence among competitors. While the winner was celebrated and heralded a hero, there were no records, no statistics, and certainly no medal counts. All athletes were celebrated for their quest for triumph in honour of Zeus.
The focus on the endeavour for excellence appears to be well and truly gone now. It really sounds like it's just about the winning.
These athletes are not machines. They are people, who yes, have chosen to dedicate their lives to reaching a pinnacle of sporting achievement. But surely we need to reduce the pressure a little bit? Surely there are other ways we can measure success?
Far and away the most beautiful thing to come out of the swimming story was something that I caught Cate Campbell say post-swim:
"I've always said that I didn't need a gold medal to have self-worth”
Bloody oath. But given how much gravity we’re putting on her on behalf of our entire nation, she’d certainly be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
Surely this is what we should be celebrating. Having the ability to be able to say, well that was disappointing, but things are okay, despite what the rest of you are saying. Having the self worth and courage to actually strive for excellence, regardless of the truth it might not be achieved.
Because that is well and truly impressive. Particularly to an Olympic napper.