Rio 2016: A triumph over rock-bottom expectations
It is very hard being an Olympic optimist — an Olyoptimist? — in Rio.
It is a lonely stance to take.
You are a diver out there on the board, wearing conspicuous and unfashionable Team Enthusiasm togs, about to leap into a toxic pool of cynicism.
How the hell can I be an Olyoptimist, you ask?
Haven’t I read about — let alone reported on — doping scandals, empty seats, an arrested IOC official, green pools, the falling camera, the falling air-conditioning unit, falling Australian medal table positions, Lochte looniness, Josh Palmer on an all-night bender and that infamous gang called the “Accreditation 9”?
I can tell you, the talk of most reporters here has mostly been along the lines of: “In exactly how many ways is Rio the worst Olympics ever?”
I am holding my breath and diving in: Rio has pulled off a miraculous Olympics.
Call it a triumph over rock-bottom expectations, but the organisers have narrowly avoided complete disaster.
There is no doubt a massive dose of luck played a part, but you can not convict someone for a crime that never happened.
Doping claims dominate Rio
This is the Olympics that should see an overhaul of the International Olympic Committe (IOC) and World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) approach to doping.
The first week’s animus around the pool deck showed authorities the issue had overrun their efforts to police it.
Their efforts are not up to scratch and the young swimmers like Mack Horton and Lily King have called them out on that.
A nuanced dialogue and position now has to proceed, to deal with the fact that many athletes clearly object to competing against others who have served doping bans.
If that is not sustainable, keep them all home. If so, their dignity must be honoured.
They can not be booed on pool deck, like Yuliya Efimova, who has called Rio a “war”.
And yes, that even applies to Sun Yang.
Mack Horton’s stance was an honest and principled reflection of a divided sports world, but it is not the way Olympics can proceed.
Australian athletes crack under pressure
This is the Olympiad that should force a re-think about Australian expectations and media exposure.
Our team has not performed up to expectations, winning just four of the 16 gold that many would have confidently tipped before the Games.
The team needed 17 or more to reach their stated aim of finishing in the top five of the medal count.
And the other upside (remember, I’m an Olyoptimist) is the gold medal reactions of swimmers like Cate Campbell, Cam McEvoy, Emily Seebohm — dignified and humble and spin-less.
They reached out through their enormous pain and disappointment and touched the hearts of people with their candour.
Swimming authorities should watch and learn when it comes to the reviews.
There is absolutely nothing to be gained by putting a glossy glow on disappointing results.
First-time medal winners do countries proud
There is a marathon course distance between throwing the swimmers under a bus and pretending everything is fine, and the public is smart enough to know that.
But there were thousands of athletes who did PBs without medalling; many who did not do as well but competed on the world stage: in short, the Olympics were run and done, and we saw top class competition.
I have a colleague who groans at victories from any competitor hailing from a small nation with a dominant cohort that exceeds expectations, unable to believe they are clean. Can’t blame him. We know the stats.
But in a rare moment of multi-skilling, I have watched the Olympics with that knowledge tucked into the worthy part of my brain and celebrated the contest with that dodgy, visceral other part.
How to forget sublime performances from Simone Biles? Katie Ledecky? Michael Phelps? Usain Bolt?
And consider the joy of nations celebrating their first ever medal — in Singapore, Fiji and Vietnam’s case it was gold.
Kimia Alizadeh became the first woman to win a medal for Iran, a bronze in taekwondo, and was celebrated by conservatives at home.
The Refugee Team provided feel-good moments for a public feeling impotent about the global crisis, but knowing they can cheer these refugees who, thanks to the Olympics, actually have faces the media can show.
Rio inserted messy, loud, imperfect reality into the hermetically sealed sports travel show that London, Sydney and Beijing created.
I’m taking my Team Enthusiasm togs and leaving with a smile.