Australia :: June 1994 - March 1995

Subject: An Australian Juggernaut at The Commonwealth Games (Part I)
Date: August 25, 1994 03:30

16:25 Toowong, Queensland :: 24 AUG 94

For several weeks leading to the opening of the '94 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada, the Australian media blitzed messages of the inevitable Aussie medal horde. They thrust out the prediction of 70 gold medals like a boastful chest and now the event commentators beat it relentlessly.

My sister and I, Canadians both, gleefully cheer on all opponents to the prediction regardless of their nationality. For the benefit of her husband, we count back from 70 for every Aussie favourite that fails in their bid for gold. The count stands now at 63 and we've missed plenty of events. On the other hand, our count doesn't acknowledge the long-shots who beat expectations, and that happens often enough. Today, with 4 days of competition remaining, Australia holds 38 gold (19 in the pool), 32 from their goal. Canada trails with 24 (9, I believe, by wrestlers) followed by England with 15.

I wonder if the rest of the Commonwealth have grown as weary of "Australia Fair" as I. Then again, I don't imagine the Canadian or English media show the full medal presentations for victorious Australians any more than we see anybody but Australians standing on the top level of the podium.

Then again, I notice something about the event coverage here that differs from my memories of years split between US and Canadian coverage of Olympics and other world events sporting events. Here, every "up close and personal" athletic profile features an Australian athlete. Even the US media, which is busy enough covering the exploits of a plethora of world-class American athletes, recognizes excellence from foreign nations. Indeed, the likes of Olga Korbut, Nadia Comaneci, Franz Klammer, Katerina Witt and even Shayne Gould, garnered popularity throughout North America in part due to American and Canadian coverage of them beyond their exploits in the games. ABC Sports made many of them household names in North America through the breadth and depth of their coverage.

I've always found the most interesting aspect of games broadcasting to be its personal expositions of the participating athletes and its cultural and geographical investigation of the host country. The Australian coverage is entirely remiss in these. We see here on occasion brief video passages of Canadian locations, usually used for transition between commercials as filler. That is the extent of it. An opportunity for learning is lost. The games are reduced to a medal count, to which country produces the best athletes, to nationalism.

And these bad been dubbed "The Friendly Games."

A lesson does emerge. The commentators' song rings in universal tones. "It's GOLD for Australia!" The pressure to succeed, that is to win since gold is the only measure of success, is immense. Lifetimes, and fortunes, turn on the arbitrary and random events unfolding in a deep breath's elapsed time, but no quarter is given for failure. Even a margin of .01 seconds prompts analysis of factors causing "defeat". The commentary, "there's no shame in second place," implies the contradiction. "She cut her personal best by 4 seconds, but today that just wasn't good enough." No wonder Hayley Lewis and Jane Fleming hang their heads so low even when standing on the silver medal platform.

Interestingly enough, during the two medal presentations the Australians "put on a brave face" while Canadian faces beamed satisfaction for their bronze. From all accounts I've heard, being a bride's maid is a fine honour and a lot of fun.

Continued in Part II

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --