SOMETHING old and something new has given Australia’s Olympic effort a huge boost, writes RON REED.
AND now for something completely different…
Who would have thought a trick cyclist would end up an Australian Olympic hero?
That’s not how it used to be at the greatest sporting show on earth (World Cup soccer fans are welcome to join the queue of dissenters) but it’s a sign of the times – and that’s no bad thing.
While you can never win too many swimming gold medals – it has always been Australia’s favourite and most successful Olympic sport and never more so than in the past week — it was starting to get hard to keep track of which of the girls was making off with what, exactly, and the celebrations were becoming set-pieces.
But it’s been great to watch, uplifting and inspirational at a time when the whole country is looking for a morale-boost, and all the more impressive because the sport itself was under considerable pressure after under-performing at the two previous Olympics and then being forced to investigate itself following allegations of deep-seated cultural problems only a few weeks ago.
No sooner had the swimming wrapped up on Sunday morning than yet another gold medal jumped in, courtesy of 27 year old Queenslander Logan Martin, 27, in the BMX freestyle, an event making its Olympic debut.
There will have been a lot of sports fans for whom that will have been a more enjoyable highlight than the final two golden splashes in the pool, and, hey, I’m one of them, which is not necessarily an automatic outcome given I’m an old fart and this is a sport for cool young dudes.
But it’s got a lot going for it – it’s spectacular, it’s fast and it demands not just high levels of skill but considerable courage, all of which Martin demonstrated in spades as he hurtled through mid-air upside-down with his bike seemingly going one way and him another, before landing safely and sprinting into history as the first gold medallist at the caper.Embed from Getty Images
Astonishingly, he wasn’t even going flat chat, claiming later that he had better tricks up his sleeve, but was just opting for the conservative and safe route to victory.
Most of us have never heard of him, but in his own environment he is a big, big deal and we’ll know all about that by tomorrow – he’s far from the first and he won’t be the last sportsman to emerge from mainstream obscurity to 15 minutes of fame, and then some, in the rich glare of the Olympic spotlight.
For many months now, the catch-cry of the Tokyo Games has been that this will be an Olympics like no other, and it was perfectly, accurate, too – but not just because of the pandemic protocols that have made the whole experience, in many respects, a lot less fun than is normally the case, with athletes being sent home almost before they have had time to celebrate their achievements of drown their disappointments.
It’s been different because the program has been given a makeover with new sports introduced with the aim of making it more appealing to what the International Olympic Committee has always insisted was its core constituency, the youth of the world.
In this context, ”youth” is a relative term, almost everybody is in their teens or twenties, but the IOC – themselves often bagged for being out-of-date dinosaurs – have identified a need for not altogether subtle change in their offering to the world, and they appear to be getting it right. Bravo to them.
BMX itself has been in for 13 years but this more interesting freestyle discipline is one of the newcomers, as is skateboarding, surfing and climbing. Breakdancing will follow in Paris next time.
We haven’t seen the clambering up walls yet, but the others have hit the spot. The Japanese like nothing better than to take a bow, so they are welcome to do so for this.
The Olympic program has been an evolving entity for some time now and that’s a very good thing. Greco-roman wrestling and modern pentathlon, to name two pursuits of miniscule interest, have disappeared relatively recently, never to return in recent times, joining cricket, croquet, lacrosse, motor boating, Jeu de Palme, pelota, polo and tug-of-war on the death roll.
Weightlifting, an original participant back in 1896, is likely to follow because of its shameless drug past. Mind you, a few other prominent sports (and countries) including cycling would be thinking “there but for the grace of God go I” if that was the only criteria.
There are many arguments for and against all sports.Embed from Getty Images
One of whose status is regularly questioned is tennis because it clearly considers its own four major tournaments more important than the Games, as do most golfers.
Tennis’s Olympic image copped another blow when its best male player, Novak Djokovic, declined to play the bronze medal match in the mixed doubles with Serbian partner Nine Stojanovic, presenting the medal to Australians Ash Barty and John Peers.
Having also failed to win a medal in the singles, thus destroying his ambition to win all the Grand Slam tournaments and the Olympic gold medal – the Golden Slam – in one year, Djokovic threw a tantrum, chucking his racquet into the grandstand in a fit of frustration.
He claimed he had a shoulder injury and that in any case he was only human like everyone else, but it still came across as a bad look and offered his many critics one more reason to add to his reputation as the most unpopular and disliked of the three great champions who have dominated the men’s game for the last decade and more.
It didn’t go down well inside the Olympic bubble,
In a barely-disguised rebuke the Games’ official Twitter account posted a photo of Roger Federer winning gold in Beijing in 2008 with the caption: “He’s won everything in tennis but just look what Olympic gold meant to @rogerfederer! Star-truck.”
Federer wasn’t in Tokyo because of injury and neither were a number of other top players for their own reasons, including Australian maverick Nick Kyrgios. So it’s a mixed message from within.
In contrast, Australia’s Alex de Minaur was distraught when a covid positive prevented him playing for his country. And Barty and Peers made it clear that they couldn’t have been prouder of their minor medal, even though it obviously was well short of the singles result the newly-minted Wimbledon champion had firmly set her sights on.
At least Barty is now on what seems destined to be one of the most impressive lists of medallists in Australian Olympic history, along with a lot of swimmers as well as rowers, a sailor, a trick cyclist a surfer – and who knows who else.
At any Olympic Games, the first rule is that anything can happen and often does – from Australia’s perspective, this is certainly no exception.
RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.