Winners and losers


By The Free Rider, Craig Richards, 24 August 2016

So the Olympics have been run, swum, jumped, tumbled, pedaled and won. The superstars like Bolt, Phelps, Biles and Farah were amazing and our Aussie Team today brought home 8 gold medals.Greg Fokker

Surely they all learnt from Greg Fokker and had the medals in their carry on luggage.

But the critics are screaming that 8 golds is a disaster. There are lots of comments about underachieving (even from Chef de Mission, Kitty Chiller – who’s name I love so much I’m going to use it when I write a detective novel). There’s questions being asked about whether the taxpayer investment in the Australian Sports Commission’s Winning Edge strategy was money well spent.

But before you join the knife sticking, boot sinking party, stop and think for a moment. Is the judgement too harsh, hasty and based on overly simple criteria?

Let’s run some numbers. Australian athletes won 2.6% of the gold on offer in Rio. 0.3% of the world’s people live in Australia. I think that qualifies as punching above your weight.

Punch above

As this guy clearly did when the unexpected happened in this bout.

Since the 1956 Melbourne Summer Olympics Australia has won 128 gold medals. That’s an average of, yes you guessed it, 8 gold medals per Summer Olympics. Include all modern Olympics since 1896 and the average is down to 5.4. So 8 in Rio can’t be a disaster.


Earthquake is the first disaster movie I ever saw way back in the 1970s when stick on moustaches were the bomb – although no-one said the bomb. From memory it was pretty similar to the classic starring Steve from 90210, Sharknado.

Maybe the athletes learned something pretty special? Something more valuable than gold. When you look up the meaning of Olympism one of the things it says is:

Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.

Maybe they learned something from swimmer Bronte Campbell. Along with her sister Cate, Australia had banked Bronte’s gold before she checked into Club Rio. When the river of gold didn’t flow her way (she was 0.34 seconds from gold in the 100 metres freestyle) and the judgements started Bronte said:

It’s not about winning at the Olympic Games, it’s about trying to win. The motto’s ‘faster, higher, stronger’, not ‘fastest, highest, strongest’. Sometimes it’s trying that matters.

Maybe they learned something from Kiwi Nikki Hamblin and Amercian Abbey D’Agostino who helped each other following a fall in the 5000 metres.

de coubertin medal

Neither left with a gold medal. But for their sportsmanship they were both awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal. Only 19 others have this medal; thousands have a gold one.

I know that one of the super attractive things about sport is it doesn’t take long to find a winner and a loser.

sue sylvester

Before long (unless its test cricket) someone will have invaded the other team’s half more, got to the finish line faster, hit a ball better or have executed a skill closer to perfect.

Which makes it very easy for us armchair critics to deliver a withering judgemental spray. Which is why I’d like to apologise to Bruce Reid who played 33 games for the Carlton Football Club in the early 1980s.

Bruce Reid

Bruce’s highlight reel is actually really good and deserves way more than the 94 views it’s had so far. Nor does he deserve the commentator calling him John Reid.

Even though Bruce played for the team I supported, I was happy to tell anyone who’d listen how he shouldn’t be wearing the famous old dark blue. All while I stood on the terrace working my way through half a dozen hot jam donuts. I’m very sorry Bruce I was an idiot.

Which brings me to participation events. Every day I’m thankful that the bike riding events we run at Bicycle Network don’t award a gold medal. It means I don’t have to deal with integrity issues like drugs, betting or secret motors on bikes. If a rider cheats we don’t judge them, they’re answerable to the ultimate critic: the man in the glass (or woman of course – the poem is from 1934) .

Man in the glass

 You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years

And get pats on the back as you pass

But your final reward will be heartache and tears

If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.

But more importantly it means riders of all abilities appreciate each other. Sure some cross the finish line well before others. Sure they all talk about the time they rode. But first and foremost they don’t judge each other worthy or unworthy.

The quicker riders are happy to swap stories with those much slower. It’s because they all share something in common: they can’t wait to wake up each day and get on their bike. They can’t explain why, but they know they love being with their bike.

Bike tent

Some perhaps a little too much.

It’s a shame that the Winning Edge strategy doesn’t measure the number of Australians who’ve found a sporting like activity that ticks three boxes:

  1. They love it
  2. They learn something valuable
  3. It helps keep them healthy.

Then if they happen to be good enough at it to win a gold medal, it’d be seen as a bonus rather than a way to judge a person’s worth.

Ride Free!



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