Obsessions of any sort, notably of a consuming nature, are never healthy matters. The drive to win gold, laced with a desperation often reflected in steroid consumption and psychological battering, has made the Olympic Games the least of savoury spectacles.
Even worse than the physical reduction of the athlete to mechanism and medal winning machine is the complicity towards it from the coaching establishment and hungry spectators. Nothing is quite as terrifying as triumph – or failure – by association, the vicarious delight, or woe, the groupies feel when their chosen champion falls. “We,” they claim, were also in the pool that day.
Australia is particularly bad on this score. Its failure to net a monstrous swag of medals at the Montreal Olympics in 1976 was seen as a catastrophe to morale, a national disgrace. Only one silver and four bronze medals were brought home.
The characteristic approach to gold madness was typified by the near hysterical antics of Australian swimming coach, Laurie Lawrence, at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. After Duncan Armstrong won gold in the 200m freestyle event in record time, Lawrence exclaimed effusively how, “He did it again. Lucky lane six.”
The interviewer proceeded to ask him whether Lawrence was ready to respond to a question about how he felt. “Mate, we just beat three record-holders. How do you feel?” In conclusion, Lawrence lands the fundamental blow to those who believe that the competition,…