What a week of Aussie Olympic glory, sports fans, with no less than fourteen (14!) gold medals, three silver medals and a raft of glorious, bronze bullion draped around the necks of our bronzed-Aussie beauties, these people are champions. For whether they’re first, second, third or still running they’ve done their very best in these trying and turbulent times, and they’ve done us, citizens of the great, girt nation-state of Australia, bloody proud.
We kicked off as we always do with gold in the pool when “The Terminator”, mighty Ariarne “Arnie” Titmus twice bested the “greatest swimmer in history”, the awesome Kathleen “Katie” Ledecky. In the 200m and 400m freestyle, Ledecky and company tried to burn Titmus early. But Titmus, patient, came from behind and ploughed over her rivals like a single-minded swim-bot; gifting us a vision of her family and dear old Dawn Fraser, leaping about in Noosa, grandma in a headlock, spilling bubbly wine at brunch. Good freakin’ times.
Success elsewhere in the pool enabled a colleague in this sports-gibber game to link the words “gobbledegook” with Zac Stubblety-Cook, the surprise winner of gold in 200m breaststroke. Kyle Chalmers proved himself a good egg after touching down 0.06 seconds behind Caeleb Dressel of America in the 100m freestyle. And our Amazonian Super Women blitzed the field in the 4 x 100m freestyle and set a new world record. Fastest and best swimming squadron ever.
Oh, yes. And Emma McKeon won gold in the 100m freestyle, 4 x 100m freestyle, 50m freestyle and 4 x 100m medley, and seven medals all-up, the most any woman’s won in the pool in one Games and equal most for any woman, any sport, any Games ever. And Kaylee McKeown (no relation, they have different surnames) won gold in the 100m and 200m backstrokes, and 4 x 100m medley.
So yes, the swimmers had a fair meet as befitting of citizens of the world’s biggest island.
Meanwhile in the frothy white water of Kasai Canoe Slalom Centre Jess Fox nudged one of those dangling pole things in her kayak and cost herself two seconds and a gold medal in the women’s slalom K1. Two days later she was in the No.1 bib, again, waiting, the last canoe in the field (sitting down not kneeling, the two-finned paddle not one) and we rode with her down the river as a so many giga-litres of frothing, roiling white-water threatened to shoot her boat out the banks like so much flotsam and/or jetsam.
Yet she powered on, mistake-free. And won by three seconds. And upwards we shot from our couches while her dad in the commentary was rendered borderline mute with emotion. And here we found perspective, a takeout from these Games of the XXXII Olympiad: for every athlete on a four-year journey their fellow travellers are people, family, love. Now, now – don’t get teary.
It was hard not to when The Matildas beat Great Britain 4-3 in an absolute ball-tearer of a quarter-final footy match. Heading into the Games these people had worse form than Covid protesters. Maybe not bad. But pretty bad.
And yet there they were ripping and tearing, equalising 2-2 in the 89th minute before saving a penalty and netting two more goals in extra time. And on reaching the semi-finals – the furthest Australia’s ever been in Olympic competition – they looked happier than happy clappers in rapture. Big rap for skateboarding which is in the Olympic Games after so many decades as an outlier and outlaw. The average age of the athletes appears to be 13 and they are on a far cooler and indifferent wavelength than most human beings.
I like ‘em, the funny little hairy skate-rats with their piercings. unkempt melons and cool, dangerous stunts best personified by Peruvian Angelo Caro Narvaez’s backwards-arsed-bollocks-bollard-stopper that you probably saw on the web. And while Australia didn’t win a medal in the street version (there’s a kid looking good for the aerials), Japan won two gold and a bronze, and if an Aussie can’t win you’re backing the locals who like the meek have had a heck of a time.
Like their cousins on skateboards, the freestyle BMX brigade has had a heck of a time convincing people their sport is one, much less that it should be in the Olympics. Yet watch the two gold medal-winning, sixty-second expression sessions of Logan’s Logan Martin, flinging his bicycle and himself around the jumps and bumps of Ariake Sports Park and you’ll agree: it is gymnastics on two wheels. It should be in Cirque Du Soleil. And Logan’s run begat Australia’s only, thus far, gold medal on land. The fastest man on the land is Lamont Marcell Jacob of Italy (Italy!) who scorched into history running with 9.80 in the final of the 100m. Our Rohan Browning won his heat in 10.01 seconds and finished fifth in the semi-final with 10.09.
Brandon Starc leapt higher than any Australian in clearing 2:35m yet finished fifth behind Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar (Qatar!). Back in Australia’s natural element and Matt Wearn of Fremantle, a city with a southerly wind so famous it has a name (“The Doctor”), only had to stay afloat and finish the last race of the men’s one person Dinghy Laser on to secure gold at Fujisawa City’s Enoshima Yachting Harbour. He did and he did. And Australia had its most golden day with a daily medal haul of four.
And we looked at our flag, fourth on the gold tally, above Great Britain, France, Germany and the Russians representing their Olympic committee, and thought: Well. How about us. How about when we won two gold medals on the trot on Wednesday when the latest incarnation of the “Oarsome Foursome”, our men’s four powered into gold half an hour after our women’s four had done the same? Rowing, sorry rowing, could be – scratch that, is – the world’s most boring sport to watch live, a race goes for two kilometres and takes six minutes and if you’re sitting by the river you’re looking at the water for all but ten seconds of that.
You’d sooner stare vacantly into space. But on the TV when your guys are hauling backwards on their way to everlastin’ glory, clearly incredibly rooted, it’s … it’s good. Top stuff, rowing. Top stuff also 48-year-old table tennis lady Jian Fang Lay who is in her sixth Olympic Games after representing Australia in Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London and Rio. She grips the racquet like she’s holding a pen (a grip known as a “pen-holder”, which is unusual) and swaps the bat about during points to whack it off both smooth and dimpled surfaces (which is considered more unusual than skateboarding at the Olympics).
Lay would lose in the fourth round of singles and in the team’s event round of 16 but won many fans to the fast-twitching wristy sport of table tennis. Good luck to her. And good luck to us, Australia. After another week of this and lockdowns be buggered, we’ll be leaping about our living rooms with Dawn Fraser in a headlock.
Be sure to watch out for plenty more throughout the games. Why not make it even more interesting and make your best bet on the games with PlayUp.