Sport Special, or Sport Overload?

This is one of those periods when it seems that the world exists only for sport, so that even an inveterate enthusiast like me can feel overwhelmed, almost. At every turn, though, the inevitable questions arise about why this mania exists, and why people behave the way they do.

First, the Olympics. At this stage of the event both Great Britain and Australia have begun the finger pointing, public criticism and soul-searching about why their teams have not won more medals. Australia has fallen well below expectations in swimming, there have been surprise results in other fields, and John Coates’ pre-Games warnings about the lack of funding leading to under-performance will, no doubt, be reprised in the next few weeks and months. ( ).   If it is any consolation for them, however, other countries like India are also undergoing similar lamentations having had greater aspirations.

One of the most astonishing images so far for Australia has been of Emily Seebohm’s public distress and apologies for her poor performance after the one hundred metres backstroke – in which she won a silver medal! ( ).    She won a medal, making her second best in the world in that event, and she sees it as a failure for which she must apologise. Fine, she was the firm favourite for the event, but finishing second is a huge achievement that she somehow sees as a failure. That was then followed by the surreal stage, when she in effect blamed Twitter and Facebook for her “failure”, because she had spent too much time on them and not getting “into her own head”. This is remarkable stuff that must raise questions about how we prepare athletes for all this – around the world people are dying through disease and conflict, others are homeless, others face daily troubles, yet a young athlete thinks she is a failure because she only won a silver and it was all Facebook’s fault. Winning is important, yes, but that is not all that sport should be about.

There was a similar story over at the fencing when South Korea’s Shin A-Lam thought she had won her way into the epee final, but officials reset the clock for just one more second during which her German opponent scored a winning touch. ( ).   Chaos set in as a protest was mounted, because Shin could not leave the scene as under fencing rules that would have meant accepting the result. There she was, all one and in the distress that was far more warranted in her case than in Seebohm’s. This all arose, it appeared, because the fencing electronic monitoring technology cannot keep up with the speed of the modern fencers and distinguish adequately enough between multiple hits. The result was that Shin lost the appeal, lost her bronze medal bout later, and then the authorities effectively admitted a great injustice had been done. The fencing federation wants to give her an award noting her Olympic spirit, but there is no real sign of any action from the IOC that is supposedly all about the athletes. I know, I cannot help myself, but the IOC always seems to be counter intuitive.

However, the IOC did act very quickly when it emerged that several badminton pairs conspired to lose matches in order to give themselves a better draw at the medal stages. ( ).  The badminton authorities held an inquiry, then the IOC threw eight leading players out of the Games. An immediate reaction from the Australia press was that might allow some Aussies back in, so desperate now is the search for medals. No matter that any medals in this event will come with question marks engraved all over them. This episode is a severe belting for the image of the Olympics that the IOC goes to such lengths to project, and that includes its inane efforts at copyrighting and intellectual property protection – if I put “London” and “2012” it seems that could be liable.

Meanwhile, much of the press coverage of the men’s cycling road race had lines like “the medal winner no one wanted” after Alexandr Vinokurov took gold having earlier served a ban for doping. ( ).  The sideshow here was Britain’s Bradley Wiggins, the Tour de France winner and road race favourite, finished well back, and blamed the Australian team for riding negatively and so not helping him! Has the world gone completely mad? He later won the time trial while the Aussies languished again.

Aussies have had a hard time of it. Just before the Games, Adam Scott led the Open Championship golf field at Royal Lytham & St Anne’s (where Kiwi lefty Sir Bob Charles won back in 1963) by four shots with four left to play, and lost to Ernie Els by a shot. ( ).   He bogeyed the last four holes, including at 17 where from the middle of the fairway he buried his second in rough to the left. This was immediately likened to Greg Norman’s legendary snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory, notably at Augusta in 1986.

The one I remember, though, was at Troon in 1989 because unlike Augusta, it was really all his own doing, and I was there. On the last day Norman shot a fantastic round that began with six consecutive birdies, and got into a playoff that included Wayne Grady and Mark Calcavecchia. For the first time ever the playoff was over four holes, and Norman began with two birdies to lead Mark Calcavecchia by a stroke as they came to the 17th, a tough 222 yard par three with a plateaued green to the sides and back. Norman hit a brilliant shot just through the back. Later reports had him in a tough lie, but being about ten metres away (you could get close back then) it did not look that way to me. He took wedge instead of putter, jammed the ball several feet past the hole, missed the putt and Calcavecchia was tied. Norman somehow then managed to drive into a bunker on 18 that no one else had reached all week, blasted out (while Calcavecchia hit a career shot close to the pin), then put his third out of bounds by the clubhouse, did not bother to hole out and lost another major.

Decision-making in sport, and mindset, are the crucial permanent factors and the Shark frequently mislaid them, as it seems Adam Scott might have done.

So did the Crusaders in their semi-final with the Chiefs last weekend in the Super XV rugby series.  ( ).   The Chiefs now play the Sharks from South Africa in Hamilton to decide the title, the Sharks having beaten the Reds in Brisbane the week before last, then the Stormers back in South Africa last weekend, and now travel back again. I tipped them to be in the final when many did not, and I am staying with them as the tip for this weekend, even though logic says the Chiefs should triumph over a team that must have a mortgage on melatonin to beat all the jet lag. The Chiefs played well last week, but the Crusaders did not turn up with their A game and Dave Rennie coached Todd Blackadder off the park. Blackadder must be under some scrutiny now – the Crusaders are the most successful franchise in the history of the competition but have not won it since 2008, so his coaching must come under review.

With a star-filled team the Crusaders lacked fluency and, it seemed, ideas. These days, with professionalism and high pay, that is not what is expected. Richie McCaw and Dan Carter et. al. looked very ordinary, and Kieran Read was definitely missed, showing yet again that a team of stars needs to be made into a team that can play, and great coaches do that.

Never mind, the weekend after next sees the first of the All Blacks v Australia matches, go the ABs.  Now, if only the LA Dodgers can get some consistency into their baseball season which so far has been like a roller coaster. It would help, too, if the West Coast Eagles can beat the cross-town AFL Perth rivals the Dockers this weekend and get back on track, having lost three of their last six games. Then, it is tough deciding who to back between West Indies and New Zealand, but the cricketing Black Caps need a lift.  That all puts the ten metre air rifle, the handball and the BMX in London a bit further back in the priority list.

And Adam Scott? He is currently defending a PGA  title in Akron, Ohio, and looking towards next week’s US PGA and another hope for a charge at a major.

One Response to “Sport Special, or Sport Overload?”
  1. Max Walsh (Manila, Philippines) says:

    I share your despair Brian.

    These Olympics will go down in history (for me anyway) where the whole idea of sport that I remember as I grew up and played has been transformed into a Hydra-like monster that is quite ugly, no matter which head you look at. Max Walsh in Manila

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: