Almanac Olympics: An Olympic Spirit and Kangaroo Diplomacy

With my feet on Australian soil and my mind left behind in Rio, the sleep deprivation and reality being brought crashing to earth with routines is starting to do my head in.


I now understand why there has been such derision about the Olympic broadcaster, I prefer the Portugese version please.


I am also feeling a similar antipathy towards some Fairfax journalists, particularly one who covers cycling. I am struggling to see if there has been one positive story written about these Olympics from the Fairfax compound, I suppose this is a trend that commenced many months before the flame was lit, the controversy, the opinions and perhaps the heaving weight of expectations to justify an Olympic junket has taken its toll.


Here’s a challenge, please send in any links to positive Fairfax Olympic stories (not syndicated writers), I will gladly be proven wrong.


Why is Gold more important than a PB?

I sense a strong wave of failure from the media, that a cost analysis against results would somehow make things better. That our funding is weighted more for World Championships than Olympic success and that most of our athletes failed to achieve their own personal best.


I am not going to wade into the pool; I don’t fully understand swimming selection and tapering and what amount of competitive racing they actually engage in before an Olympic meet. With the Cycling program I am significantly more familiar.


The Men’s Team Pursuit apparently failed in their ambitions, they won Silver and not Gold. Never mind that they broke the old World Record, set a new Australian record, they were supposed to win Gold. Being part of this team’s journey I felt their pain, their anguish. To a man they were shattered. Proud of what they achieved but shattered they didn’t win Gold.


What can you say to them in this time of despair, that their sacrifices for the past two years were fruitless? That their hours and hours and thousands of kilos pedalled in training were in vain? To a man they said they had nothing left to give, the tank was empty. This is all you can ask for, sometimes your opposition is just that little bit better and you need to acknowledge this.


I also watched a Team Pursuit squad from the Netherlands go into the final bend with a leading qualifying time, touched wheels and the third rider crashed. You need three riders to finish to qualify a time, they didn’t proceed, in fact a DNF meant they were out, thanks for coming, all over red rover. Feel that pain and anguish.


I met a member of the Men’s quad sculls, they hadn’t been beaten all year and on the day experienced their first defeat, wait it was a Silver Olympic medal. How many of the poison pen brigade have a silver medal?


Olympic Spirit

The Olympics is an event full of stories where athletes triumph over adversity, that is why it’s called the Olympic Spirit. Where are the stories of  Olympic Spirit in the media?


I loved Kyle Chalmers coming forward to shock not just Australians but International swimming pundits. Of sailor Tom Burton winning Gold on a risky last race tactic, it is not the story of athletes living up to their expectations but of those that go beyond them.


Melissa Tapper is my favourite Olympic moment. Melissa competes in Table Tennis, she has competed at the London 2012 Paralympics and this year qualified for both Rio Olympic 2016 and Paralympic games. Melissa has brachial plexus injury (the nerves between her neck and right shoulder were torn when she was being pulled out by doctors) resulting in Erb’s palsy where her right arm is 30% weaker and tends to get in the way.


Melissa is the first dual Olympian and Paralympian and is a bit humbled by others looking up to her, almost to the point of embarrassment. In her words, “if I am able to influence people and inspire people to push themselves to achieve more than what they thought they could then that’s just a bonus.”


Melissa lost in a first round encounter to Brazilian Caroline Kumahara and was in tears after the match not because she lost but in realising the culmination in her difficult  journey to achieve her ambition in making the Olympics.


I believe these results or stories drive the inspiration of a nation, not the glory boys and girls in swimming or whatever. It is the stories of those pursuing a dream; whatever that is to keep pursuing and not let fear of failure distort your ambition. Or a few choice words from Fairfax media.


In my interviews of cyclists, I asked each one what inspired them to take up cycling. Apart from a few whose families were connected to the sport, the remainder all said watching either Commonwealth Games or Olympics. Not watching gold medals being won or records being broken, but watching the sport and being inspired.


Kangaroo diplomacy

I had the pleasure to share elements of my Olympic program with a mad, passionate and crazy Australian supporter. Paul is a high flying executive for a global corporate and every four years he takes absence from work and the constraints or his everyday life to go Olympic.  This was Paul’s sixth Olympics; he buys as many tickets to different events in order to experience the total package, all the while carrying a stuffed kangaroo, a boxing kangaroo flag draped over his shoulder like the man of steel’s cape and a cleverly concealed compartment for his ticket collection. Paul also carries a small collection of Aussie flags and clutch koalas that he hands out to other spectators and young kids.


Wherever he went, people came up and spoke with him, possibly more due to the stuffed kangaroo than his sparkling personality. Some wanted to talk AC/DC and whether Bon Scott was the best frontman, but mostly they wanted a selfie with the stuffed kangaroo, a comforting symbolic gesture.


After his new favourite Olympic moment, watching the men’s Team Pursuit, Paul and I engaged in playful banter with families of Team GB including the wife of Sir Wiggles. Paul expressed how great a race the Men’s TP was and how close the margins between success and disappointment are. His comments made both Australian and British supporters realise how exceptionally good both teams were and that it took one team to make the other great. I understand this perspective.


Paul also shared with me that his faith in humanity has been restored, after a week spent in Rio the world is in reasonably good shape. No matter how our politicians behave with intolerance to basic humanity and that the US could possibly vote for the greatest danger to world stability since Hitler, the world as a community is in good shape. The global watering hole has spoken.


After an evening drinking and dancing with many different nationalities, it was the love for the fluffy kangaroo that transcends all boundaries.


Vote 1 Skippy.

About David Parker

A keen observer of all things sport and a Swans tragic, David likes to dabble in sporting documentaries including the Max Bailey doco for Fox Footy. David is currently filming a documentary on the Australian Cycling Men's Team Pursuit squad as they prepare for the 2016 Rio Olympics.


  1. Bravo re: personal bests and the acknowledgement of opponents, DP.

    The ragtag cheer squad media do a great nationalistic disservice to all.

    Awesome team pursuit final.

  2. Yes, the Olympics is about participation, not podiuming. Maybe when editing your documentary, make this point, just getting to the Olympics is a victory, participating is a victory, finishing is a victory, etc etc. Showing the failures of all the others on their journeys might help.

  3. Thanks 6%, I like your perspective.

    Cheers ER, we often forget the contest and focus on the podium. I haven’t managed to watch the full replay of the race but the sights and sound at the velodrome were amazing. I have a photo of the youngest member of the team sitting on the podium with the coach after everyone had left, he with his medal and they just chatted for several minutes alone on the big stage. It is the heartfelt moments that I will retain from this campaign.

  4. I listened to UB, win the men’s 200 metre final on the car radio.

    What an amazing athlete. It will be a treat to get home and view this performance.

    Can he now get his relay gold medal , giving him a triple threepeat ?

    It takes our focus off of the Australians performances.


  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I’ve really enjoyed your Olympic insights Dave.

  6. Thanks Swish.

  7. Thanks for your Olympic reports,Dave greatly appreciated and while in general I agree with your general direction we also have to be honest where athletes such as Kate Campbell and Emily Seebohm and obviously others have been disappointing performing a mile below there best

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