These are all black days for Australia. Australia went to the London Olympics expecting glory. But the last time I looked, it ranked 19th in gold medals, way behind Kazakhstan and North Korea. "Down Under" now has a new and unwelcome meaning.
Worst of all, Great Britain (3rd) is smashing the Aussies. Australian are so used to giving "the Poms" a shellacking in rugby and cricket that sinking below GB on the table is almost paralysing. "The Australian biggest flop since Crocodile Dundee 3", an American witticism, was gleefully echoed by the British media.
Actually, that's not worst. This is: coming behind New Zealand (15th), Australia's trans-Tasman neighbour. Late last week, when NZ ranked tenth in the medal tally board, Channel Nine showed only the first nine nations so as not to rub salt in the wounded psyches of viewers. "Australian media are in denial – the first stage of grief – at seeing New Zealand above their team on the Olympic medal table," the New Zealand Herald crowed. At the end of Day Eight, it helpfully noted for its readers, "To put our achievements into perspective, the small South Island town of Picton has won the same number of gold medals as all of Australia."
No matter how the ranking is spun -- number of golds, total number of medals, medals in proportion to population or medals versus per capita GDP, nothing is working out right. “To catch GB now, I don't like to use the words 'nigh-on impossible' but it's going to be extremely difficult,” an Australian Olympic official says. “New Zealand -- we don't want to suffer jokes for the next three years and 50 weeks until Rio, so hopefully we can overcome them.”
Perhaps humiliations like this are good, though. They help us to focus on the purpose of sport, which is not national glory, but human excellence. As far as I am concerned the winner of the 2012 London Olympic Games was South Africa's Oscar Pistorius, who ran in the heats for the 400 metres race. He is a double amputee and runs on prosthetic legs. That is the sort of courage and determination which define the Olympics for me. Whom would you nominate?
This week we feature Rob Hughes on Olympic drug cheats, David Peterson on the apostle of selfishness, Ayn Rand; Robert Reilly on what keeps Arab states from succeeding; and Colleen Carroll Campbell on free speech in the same-sex marriage debate.