Moments to remember

In a few days time I head off for a few weeks in Malaysia. One of the regrets I have in leaving Oz  is that I’ll be away for the entire duration of the London Olympics. Now the Olympics are a vast, international sporting event, and Malaysia isn’t going to miss out on viewing it – it’s just that it will be very different. There’s nothing like watching the Olympics in Australia.

On a basic level I’ll miss the coverage, which promises to be exceptional (which is likely more than can be said for the commentary). I think there are about 8 channels dedicated exclusively to broadcasting the Olympics on cable, and all of them in HD. That’s enough for me to drool right there, especially as I fear in KL I’ll be stuck with telecasts of the badminton and gymnastics and the other sports that Malaysia is partial to. No offence, but Malaysia is not Australi when it comes to sport.

That’s somewhat the point really. You want to see these great events broadcast superbly, but once upon a time people used to listen to these things on the wireless. The thing is really the sport, which is immense, the contest, and the occasional moment of national myth-making.

I’ve just come off watching John Clarke’s Sporting Nation, which, among other things, charted the rise of Australian participation and success in the Olympic games. It revisited the myriad iconic moments and stars of Australian Olympic history, Dawn Fraser, Herb Elliott, Shane Gould, Kieren Perkins, Cathy Freeman. To those I would add great moments when Ralph Doubell won the 800m in Mexico, and Jon Sieben‘s come from behind win in LA (and Duncan Armstrong); Debbie Flintoff-King in the heptathlon; the great win in the 4x100m relay in the pool in Sydney, and of course Thorpie.

I reckon there would be few places in the world who have such a rich history in the Olympic games. Much of that has become folklore. It’s just so huge in Oz that there are few places like it for the vibe and hype. I like that feeling, that sense, of being an enthusiastic spectator, the build-up, the anticipation to a big event, the conversation around the water cooler, in the tram, splashed across the newspaper. Then that feeling when everything stops, when collectively as a nation just about we pause to hold our breath while the great hope, the supernaturally talented idol, get sets to compete.

Australia has a very proud record in the Olympic games, and we expect nothing less than that. Barring a couple of disappointing events we’ve always excelled, and even dominated, on a per capita basis. Once more we are tipped to come around 5th in the final medal tally, a phenomenal effort when you consider that we come up against the US, Russia, China, the European giants, and so on. Time will tell if we reach that target, but there’s sure to be a lot of excitement along the way. I’ll feel some of that no doubt, will follow the events from KL and have already set my iQ to record, but it will be both different and more difficult – but somehow I’ll manage.

I love the swimming particularly, as every Aussie does, and the cycling (an event my dad was selected for in the 1960 Olympics), rowing, and the athletics. One thing is for sure there are certain events that I’ll be watching comewhat may, whether it be on cable TV, or online, even if I have to take myself off somewhere in the middle of the night.

For me the two Australians I really want to see compete are Sally Pearson and James Magnusson. Both of them have a distinct qualities that set them apart from the common ruck of athletes. Pearson is supreme, almost invincible in her event over the last couple of years. You watch her and you feel confident that she will do whatever she has to. There is a steely, single-minded confidence to her. You know that she works harder than anyone else because that is her personality; and that the pressure and the hype only serves to push her to greater heights, because that is her nature also. Great athlete and exceptional competitor, her status in the world is confirmed by the fact that while Usain Bolt won the male athlete of the year, Pearson was his female counterpart. She’s that good, and it would be a huge upset to see her lose.

Magnusson is a different cat. Whereas Pearson is flinty Magnusson has the ease of a man who knows he’s better than everyone else, and not for a moment doubts it. He leaves the worries for his competitors – all he needs to do is get in the pool, swim at his usual standard, and he’ll win. He has that relaxed charisma that the great athletes have. In truth, while clearly the fastest in the world over a 100 metres, he hasn’t done a lot yet to justify it – but like him, I have little doubt that he will. He is world champion, soon he will have a gold medal, and perhaps at the same time get the world record. In any case the world record is inevitable, and he’ll have achieved it without the benefit of the (now) banned bodysuit. They call him the missile, and it fits.

I expect him to win the blue riband 100m freestyle, and every chance an Aussie – James Roberts – will take silver. They’ll combine with a couple of other very fast swimmers (including one ex-world record holder) in the relay. I love the relay, they’re always exciting and Oz generally goes head to head with our greatest rival in the pool, the States. Would be a surprise if we don’t win this easily too.

There are others I look forward to watching. I like Stephanie Rice. Sure she’s pretty cute, and has just about the biggest persnality on the team (love her or hate her), but she’s another who is just a monster competitor. She was probably the glamour girl of the Beijing Olympics where she won 3 gold medals. Since then she’s struggled with injury and controversy, but she’s the type you would never rule out. I love her brazen confidence. It’s the sort that will always rub some up the wrong way, but it’s also the thing that powers her forward. I think she’s a tough mutha and won’t come away wondering.

Steve Hooker is the other fascinating story. He could be the Kieren Perkins story of this games – that is the Kieren Perkins of the 1996 Olympics when he just scraped into the final, the reigning champion down on form, and from lane 8 somehow got up to win. Man that was a great moment. Champions do that. That’s what you love about sport. Champions get up when you’ve ruled them out, they surprise you.

Hooker won the pole vault in Beijing. For the last couple of years he’s struggled for form and, more seriously, from confidence. He has the pole vaulting equivalent of the yips, where the problem is less about whether he’ll make the height and more about whether he’ll even jump. After some disappointing results he came out last weekend and managed to clear heights he couldn’t in the months before. The challenge is set for him. He could be the Kieren Perkins of these Olympics.

Otherwise I like to watch Usain Bolt run. He’s such a cool dude you can’t help but like him. I think he’ll win. And on the cycling track I always love the teams pursuit. Should be a great battle against the Brits.

Only a few days away now. No matter where I’ll be, I can feel the anticipation building. More moments to remember for a lifetime, that’s the prospect and it’s hard not to get excited by it. Go Oz.

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