Who do they really do it for? – Olympics Day One

Day one of the Olympics is over and I’m almost shaking with anticipation for day two. The London 2012 Olympic Games are going to be good. They’re a celebration; the ultimate sports-fest; the 30th of the modern incarnation. Already, dreams have been both met and shattered. Among the Australians, this dichotomy was stark. The seven girls who first swum through the 100m freestyle relay heats, and eventually winning the final, would still be hugging their gold medals as they sleep. Melanie Schlanger, Alicia Coutts, Cate Campbell and Brittany Elmslie, the best of the four fighting in the heat for a place in the final, had to first fight off the Americans and then the Dutch to post a new Olympic record: 3:33.15.

The other side of the emotional scale was epitomised by Stephanie Rice in an interview alongside her Mum. Both were in tears, her Mum preempting criticism and battering it down, and Rice mature in her self-evaluation. She was shattered having finished sixth in the 400m individual medley. Her tears were for a disappointing preparation, hampered by the ill-fortune of a reoccurring shoulder injury.

The girls, in their post-race interviews, all commented on how they were so proud to be Australian and that they did it for Australia, or in Rice’s case, hoped she hadn’t let her country down. They are kind sentiments but one’s that will be lost in the abyss of the Australian audience’s selective Olympic memory.

We feel proud to be Australian when our representatives conduct themselves well on the world stage. That they are there is an achievement we can all respect. All that we hope is that, to paraphrase 1996 1500m Olympic running champ, Noureddine Morceli, athletes are dignified in defeat and – even if only a little bit – modest in victory. What motivates them to dedicate their lives towards competing in the Olympics is irrelevant. In fact, I would prefer the story of motivation as it were, no matter how selfish (read, usually: intrinsic). There is romance in an athlete’s inner-drive to compete because we can be empathetic with the need for an intrinsic motivator. As any romantic will tell you, empathy is key to the most charming dinner date.

Still, good on the girls! And good luck to our Rowers who have all progressed through their heats. It was a successful day for them. The Opals, too, had a comfortable win over Great Britain.

Perhaps the most amusing, yet relatable, story of the first day was the sore luck of our female air-rifle competitor, Alethea Sedgman, who hit snooze on her alarm and slept through it, almost missing her event. She made it in time but missed out on the medals. As Gideon Haigh pointed out on Offsiders, in Beijing we had lay-down Sally, now we have snooze-button Sedgman. China claimed that gold.

Bring on day two!

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