There is an unseen silver lining in the clouds of gloom that seem to have eclipsed Australia’s sporting pre-eminence in London.
One might even call it a cold English shower of reality. The apparent lack of success in the gold digging stakes should not be reason to overlook a dozen or so silver medals where each and every one represents a transcendent and laudatory feat. After all each represents being the second best in the world at a chosen discipline and that is extraordinary enough. But as onlookers we are a nation of winners and the gold drought cannot but help rankle.
The Australia that has grown so used to winning doesn’t like this apparent lack of distinction and would prefer to sullenly hit the remote control with dismissive curses and flick over to a sport we are unquestionably the best in the world at – because no one else plays it.
So while there is the possibility that London 2012 will hint at nothing but the ugly possibility that we are a nation of sore losers there is also the danger is that we miss a great opportunity to take a closer look at our collective sporting selves. If Sydney Athens and Beijing represented a high point in our Niobe-like hubris of triumphalism then a quick glimpse at yesterday’s medal tally brings the national psyche crashing back down to earth.
Even the trite argument about “punching above our weight” falls flat when old neighbour and rival New Zealand has more to boast of.
There has been and certainly will be lots of hand wringing and soul-searching at a national level about the cause of the “ defeat”.
But there is also potentially a deeper lesson in all this for a sport-loving race. It is an increasingly spectator nation that most demands victory.
The vicarious joy of watching our appointed proxy loses its vitality if we have to have to face up to the reality of coming second. No one likes losing but the spectator has even less to walk away with, having largely been denied the physical thrill of competing. With the looming threats of obesity epidemics and the soft allure of an increasingly convenience-driven society, those old fashioned values of “games” and simply taking part could not be more important for physical and social well being.
Who knows, a return to and revival of the grass roots participatory sport in so many ways might even increase the talent pool that has brought Australia so much Olympic glory in the past.