Olympic Medals and Wooden Spoons: Carlton 2002


As Adelaide claimed the 2017 minor premiership, and the Brisbane Lions collected another wooden spoon, memories were revived of a strange event that took place at Princes Park back in 2002. At the time, Carlton was all but doomed to finishing last for the first time in 105 years of VFL/AFL football, and it unfolded something like this.


Approaching the half-way stage of the season, Carlton had lost eight of their first nine matches to be anchored six points behind St Kilda at the foot of the ladder. On the previous weekend at Princes Park, Adelaide had thrashed the home side by 56 points and Crows supporters had gleefully thrown spoons onto the field in front of the players’ race.


Blues coach Wayne Brittain was desperate for a way to lift his team, so he turned to triple Olympic gold medallist Shane Gould, who had recently embarked on a new career as a motivational speaker. One of Australia’s greatest-ever swimmers, Gould had been the first woman to hold the world freestyle record at every distance from 100 metres to 1500 metres. At the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, she won five individual medals; gold in the 200 and 400 freestyle, gold in the 200  individual medley (setting new world records in each) as well as silver in the 800 freestyle, and bronze in the 100 freestyle. A year later, she retired from international competition as an Olympic legend.


So, after the Blues’ final training session ahead of their Round 10 match against Fremantle, all senior players gathered in the presence of greatness. Before stepping up to speak however, Gould controversially presented each player in the room with a brand new wooden spoon, from a batch she had bought on her way to the ground. Then she started her address by suggesting that Carlton should accept finishing last as a character-building exercise. “You have to see humour in it,” she said, asking the players to adopt their new spoons as mascots, and to decorate them appropriately after each win or loss from then on. Understandably, just about everyone in the room was gobsmacked.


But there was more. Gould drew a parallel with Carlton’s predicament and her own disappointment in finishing third in the 100-metre freestyle at Munich. It had “taught her a lesson in how to lose,” she said, and that the players should separate the performance from the performer. “It’s not you who is useless, it is the performance.”


As she continued, resentment grew. Interjections became louder and more frequent until the meeting was cut short and the honoured guest was hustled away. Recriminations followed, even after Gould contacted the club with an apology, and conceded that her ideas related more to individual competitors than a team sport.


That weekend, Carlton lost to the Dockers by 28 points at Subiaco. Wayne Brittain lost his job, and since then, motivational speakers at Princes Park have been very, very carefully selected.


Conscription into the army ended Warren's dreams of becoming either a league footballer or a professional musician, but military service did at least teach him how to handle firearms, and to work behind a bar.

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