Almanac Olympics: Saudade


It was great to see saudade highlighted in the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games. (Pronunciation butchered magnificently by Channel 7)

It is a magnificent word and concept. A longing; a sense of loss. But with a depth which is hard to explain – hence it’s a word which occasionally bobs up in pieces written in English.

I tried to make sense of these concepts when writing about football as it existed in my childhood memories in Loose Men Everywhere, now part of Play On.

Towards the end of the book I am down from Queensland for Buddha Hocking’s final game – against Brisbane in 2001. It was my third visit ever to Kardinia Park. It was a memorable day – despite the loss.


“The club knows it is a significant day. Many past champions have been invited and they stand in a long line on the ground in front of the members’ stand. They have so many stories. The people in the crowd tell their stories of watching them play. It is a nostalgic day.

In Australian English we have a thin understanding of the word ‘nostalgia’. It tends to be used to describe a lament for the past – that somehow life was great then and that things would be much better if we just went back there. In the Latin languages, words like nostalgie, in Franch and Spanish and saudade in Portuguese are far more complex, richer. Their nostalgia is the idea of returning home, home to the things which have formed you.”


I always feel a sense of melancholy at the conclusion of a major Games, a festival, a season. I remember it only too well as a child. Why was it so sad to watch those final minutes of the Grand Final?



Play On front cover final

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About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie10. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.


  1. Its a beautiful sentiment, Sodade the Cape Verdean variant is used in an emotive song by Ceasaria Evora and evokes the emotion beautifully. Links here

  2. Check the comments after the youtube clip.

  3. These Olympics went from total farce, to brilliant. I am not lamenting their passing as I normally lament the end of Olympic Games. Is it me? Or has it all become just a bit crass? The arrogance and sense of entitlement that some of our sporting representatives carry around with them is breathtaking. And the lack of acknowledgement of the opposition has been extraordinarily poor (mostly). Catherine Skinner sticks out as the exception here.

    Therefore I haven’t got that sense of “saudade” or nostalgia. I’m actually looking to the future. I’m hoping the Japanese can rescue the situation in 2020.

  4. I know exactly what you mean Dips. So much seems tainted. The industrial sports process has had it for a while. And I think it takes a leap of faith to see the moments of truth and beauty.

    But I would suggest your comment is infused with saudade.

    So what is it the Games has lost?

    I started my Griffith Review piece with the innocence of Olympic youth – receiving one of those T-shirts before the 1976 Montreal games.

  5. DBalassone says

    I am on a wavelength with this JTH. I too get that melancholy feeling at the end of a big event, whether it be Olympics, or the last minutes of GF day, or even when those afternoon shadows start gathering on a Sunday arvo. The party’s over – back to reality.
    Though curiously that Ceasaria Evora song doesn’t come through for me. I suspect it’s something to do with the music forms that reasonate with you due to your upbringing. I feel an overwhelming sense of nostalgia when I hear ‘True Love Ways’ by Buddy Holly – I don’t know why, maybe the melody, but I suspect many others wouldn’t feel a thing when hearing it.

  6. The time difference between Rio & Melbourne was pretty challenging.
    As was my failure to find any kind of accurate schedule.

    But the biggest challenge for me was being told what was important and meaningful.
    Rather than concentrating on heavily funded battery hens producing eggs (“It’s a big night ahead at the pool for our Aussies…”) it would have been better to look at achievements at the human scale.

    Forget the medal tally (which itself undermines the whole point of the Games).

    Some wonderful human moments around. A couple I know of:

    Syrian refugee Rami Anis gets to compete at an Olympic Games.
    He then swims a personal best in 100 metre freestyle.

    Women’s 5000m runner New Zealand Nikki Hamblin stopping to help fallen American Abbey D’Agostino.

    Keep your medal tally.
    That’s the good stuff.

    And this is the first time I’ve heard of saudade. I love it.

  7. Yes JTH you’re right. In denying saudade I’m actually being nostalgic.

  8. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Powerful meaning in Greek JTH. Linked with returning home after a long, painful and harrowing journey. Inspired by the Odyssey. Sums up Geelong in 2007 and the Pies in 1990.

    Watched some Olympics, like ER, Refugee stories were great and I got a chance to see Ekaterini Stefanidi win Gold in the pole vault and a super effort from young Kiwi Eliza McCartney to land Bronze.

  9. ER in principle I agree that medals shouldn’t be the focus, but if sport is happy to take taxpayers’ money then the taxpayers have every right to make a judgement based upon the medal count. If they take the money they should give us the show.

    I would actually introduce a HECS type system to sport funding. If an athlete takes government money then makes $10m selling Uncle Toby’s Oats, then the money should be repaid. Tennis players are the worst.

    JTH what do the Games miss now? Probably a sense of wonder and mystery. Drugs in sport forces us into cynicism. The glitz around it is absurd.

  10. Why shouldn’t the free market, neo-capitalist approach apply to the system that is elite sport? If that’s the way they’ve taken it, then remove all government support and make those who benefit most pay for it. At the moment it’s a complete con.

  11. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    The first time that I remember feeling something like this was at the end of a week of billeting a kid from Taldra by the name of Ken Fielke, when the primary schools of southern Elizabeth hosted the Riverland footy team at the 1972 SAPSASA country carnival.

    I knew I’d never have another week like it and I’d never see those kids again.

    A couple of weeks later, it was a baseball camp at Mylor, with kids that I’d be playing against for the next five or so years, some of whom went on to represent Australia. Munich Olympics were on that weekend.

    I just thought I was a sook when it was over, now I know what it was called.

  12. Dips, in the sense you long for the loss of athletics/sport as you remember it from when your understanding was formed.

    The upside – I reckon we write better when melancholic.

  13. Dips, I guess that’s one way to look at it is – the taking of a government grant forming some sort of contract.
    “You pay me, and I perform to X standard.”
    But it’s murky. Who nominates the standard?
    Surely you cam only ever compete against yourself (in a known sense). You can only ever beat your personal best.
    You would never commit to achieving a relative measure – like a spot on the appalling medal tally – because you have no way of knowing what the athletes anywhere else are doing.
    The logical conclusion to that is an arms race.
    Spend spend spend. To buy buy buy medals.

    Is that the end to which we should aspire?
    Focus on the medals and that’s what happens.
    Shift the focus, and maybe we shift the model.

  14. The Olympics really sucked me in. As always.
    Enjoyed the Track and Field the most. I reckon it was partly because there were no serious contenders from Australia. Just the magnificence of the competition and the levels of excellence.
    Distance running from 800 metres up with the tactics coming into it along with the athleticism.
    And Bruce and Tamsyn were terrific commentating when they could show their knowledge and passion, without the banal barracking of the swimming and basketball.
    Pure excellence and pressure.
    As long as we punch our weight I don’t care if we don’t win a lot of golds. Some wins sustain the investment, but I am more interested in kids and participation.

  15. ER – If I had my way sports funding would be spread across the grass roots to inspire participation and to give opportunity. Sod the Olympic medals. My point is that, rightly or wrongly, athletes accept government money in order to assist their performance, focus, and medal chances. Taxpayers should see a return on that investment. Further, once the athletes have an earning capacity they should repay the government for giving them that opportunity.

    Also I disagree that you can only ever compete against yourself; you can only ever beat your personal best. That’s squibbing the issue. That’s why a lot of our athletes fail under pressure. No, we can always beat our opponent. That’s what motivates the athlete. If a personal best is the motivation then victory will rarely be attained. Victory must be the target. Great examples of both of these types of athletes are Herb Elliott and Ron Clarke. Herb Elliott ran to win and did. Ron Clarke raced the clock and lost.

    Having said that, the battle to defeat an opponent often starts with the battle to know yourself.

  16. Dips and ER,

    Rick Mitchell (Aust’s last male track medal winner – and that was 1980) won’t mind me saying this, as he has said it publicly, and he said it to me again the night after van Niekerk won the 400 (a run which had Rick in raptures – and me!), a huge problem is athletes and swimmers are not competitors. They need to race more often, even if it is club athletics. W.K. Trewick thinks similarly. Steve Renouf was super quick but couldn’t run good time when trialing. Drove the training staff mad. When I asked how quick he was he said “quicker than the bloke chasing me!” Exactly what happened when Ricky Walford chased him the length of the ground in the 1992(?) Grand Final. Renouf moved beautifully – the equivalent of A. Macleod in grace, but quicker (if Macleod were chasing him!)

    Other side of that though is that Little Athletics is excellent at helping us understand that striving for personal best has merit. Loved the metre square limed jump box for example. The true measurement mattered. Not the capacity to hit the board and play a tactical game against your competitors (at Under 10?)

    Little Athletics taught us how to accept loss while striving. Lots of glorious moments – personal moments – victories without breasting the tape. Harms v Teasedale 800m c1972 Princess Park, Shepparton. 2.49.8

  17. I am with,Dips in sentiment but as you well no my grasp of the english language is C Marsh b Lillee no score

  18. JTH – yes my point is more directed at the higher levels of sport. Kids should be taught to compete and strive to better their previous efforts, even if that doesn’t bring victory. But at the higher levels, as admirable as this attitude is, it does not suffice.

    My own father said he wasn’t the best athlete when he won the Stawell Gift, but he was the fittest. In other words, it was victory that made him strive, not a personal best 4th. The lessons of losing had already, well and truly, been learned.

  19. Hi Dips – JTH, OBP.
    Yes, i agree that you only need to beat your opponent on the day; I’m with you on the idea of racing, of competition.
    But on the medal tally model – it’s impossible to expect a result against competitors who are all doing their own thing (they’re also trying very hard to beat you). On the contact-for-effort model you can only control your own performance – hence a measure against personal best might fit.
    At the organisational level I find it ridiculous that anyone would say “we’re expecting X gold medals.”

    But the philosophy of the Games seems to be for each country to win as many golds as possible.
    Why don’t we shoot for maximising participation and enjoying the spectacle of the world’s best athletes pushing themselves and each other (racing)? Is there really a winner under the current model? Did the USA top the medal table in Rio? If so, what does this mean?

  20. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Saudade. As fine a word as the welsh Hiraeth. Untranslatable in their coverage.
    Like the French version of ‘courage.’
    Olympic and un-Olympic all at once.

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