SYDNEY: There were recriminations and soul-searching in Australia Saturday about the much-vaunted swimming team’s single gold in the Olympic pool, with former coaches and stars blasting a lack of drive and unity.
With the London Games swimming events almost complete there was exhaustive press coverage of Australia’s failure to impress — bagging just one gold from a shock win in the women’s 4×100 freestyle relay, five silver and two bronze.
Former Olympian Susie O’Neill, twice a gold medallist in the pool, blamed a lack of discipline compared to rivals from countries like China.
“What I’ve been hearing… is the work ethic from Australian swimmers is maybe not the same as it used to be 10 years ago,” O’Neill said.
“Talent gets you this far in an Olympics; work ethic gets you across the line… it’s one part talent, it’s four parts work ethic.”
Former head swimming coach Don Talbot said it would take four to eight years for Australia to reverse its plunge to what he described as a “mediocre swimming nation”, blaming a lack of individual drive and unity in the team.
“They seem to be too happy to accept the fact that they’re not doing well. In years gone by an athlete would come back and throw things around (if they missed out),” he said.
Talbot took aim at current chief coach Leigh Nugent as needing to “get tougher” with swimmers and their trainers, also blaming the exodus of Australian coaches to other countries and calling for a stronger team spirit.
“When the athletes are under stress they have to know they are all in the same boat. It brings them together,” he said.
James Magnussen had been expected to dominate the men’s 100m freestyle, coming into the event as the world champion and warning his rivals to brace themselves, only to be beaten in the final by 1/100th of a second.
It followed his sluggish performance in the opening lap of the 4x100m men’s freestyle relay, which saw the Australians finish fourth, despite being talked up as medal contenders.
Magnussen was well off his personal best times and his disappointing showing was compounded by a series of near-misses by team-mates faced with competitors from the dominant USA, China, France and surprise rivals such as South Africa.
Australia’s media warned it could be the first time since the 1976 Montreal Olympics that the once-mighty swim team left the Games without an individual gold, and a far cry from the heights of Sydney, Athens and Beijing.
Australia won five swimming golds at its home games in 2000, seven in 2004 and six in 2008, with swimming traditionally accounting for just under half of the country’s Olympic medal haul.
Sports Minister Kate Lundy said there would not be a “panicked response” if Australia finished well down the medal tally and warned the nation’s Olympic Committee not to automatically expect extra funding as a result.
“What I am interested in is a system that actually achieves results,” Lundy told The Weekend Australian newspaper.
“We have led the way and punched above our weight with (government) investment in the Australian Institute of Sport. We have now seen other countries catch up and the task I have before me is where do we next innovate?”
“It is not just about more money in a system that isn’t doing very much.”
Channel News Asia
LONDON: Michael Phelps said goodbye with an 18th Olympic gold medal Saturday, the US men remaining unbeaten in the 4x100m medley relay on a last record-setting night of swimming at the London Aquatics Centre.
In what he has vowed was his final race, the four-time Olympian took his career medals tally to 22 – including the epic eight gold he won in Beijing four years ago.
China’s Sun Yang offered a worthy curtain-raiser to Phelps’ finale as he shrugged off a heart-in-mouth moment at the start to destroy the field and win the 1,500m freestyle gold in a world record time, while America’s 4x100m medley women also won in a world record.
As so often, however, Phelps was the focus.
Breaststroke star Kosuke Kitajima had given Japan a narrow lead when Phelps dived in for the butterfly leg of the men’s relay.
Takeshi Matsuda maintained the lead at the 50m mark of the fly, but Phelps delivered a classic final lap to seize the lead for the Americans and 100m free gold medallist Nathan Adrian was untouchable in sealing the victory in 3:29.35.
Sun shook off a heart-in-mouth moment at the start, when he slipped and hit the water as the other swimmers stood up before the start.
He wasn’t charged with a false start that would have ended his night, and after the public address announcer instructed the crowd to maintain silence, a seemingly shaken Sun joined the rest of the field in returning to the blocks and powered to a win in 14:31.02, bettering the previous world record he set last year at the world championships in Shanghai.
“I thought I was going to be disqualified,” admitted Sun, who said he couldn’t hear the starter properly over the crowd noise. “I didn’t expect the false start and I was very worried about being disqualified.”
Once away, Sun was never challenged as he became the seventh man, and the first since Russian distance freestyle great Vladimir Salnikov in 1980, to win both the 400m free and 1500m free at the same Olympics.
Sun’s triumph in the 400m free last Saturday made him the first male swimmer from China to claim Olympic gold and he earned silver in the 200m free.
Sun beat the water in joy, then covered his face as he broke down in tears before exiting the pool as he followed up on the world title he won by breaking Australian Grant Hackett’s 10-year-old world mark in the event last year.
More than eight seconds back, Canadian Ryan Cochrane took silver in 14:39.63 and Beijing champion Oussama Mellouli earned bronze in 14:40.31.
The US quartet of Missy Franklin, Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer and Allison Schmitt won the women’s 4x100m medley relay in a world record of 3:52.05.
Franklin, 17, claimed her fourth gold of the Games as part of the formidable line-up. She, Vollmer and Soni had all set individual world records here.
Australia took silver in 3:54.02 and Japan claimed the bronze in 3:55.73.
Dutch speedster Ranomi Kromowidjojo posted an Olympic record of 24.05sec to win the women’s 50m free, completing a 50m-100m freestyle double ahead of Aliaksandra Herasimenia of Belarus (24.28) and Dutch team-mate Marleen Veldhuis (24.39).
Channel News Asia
LONDON: China recovered from the expulsion of its top seeds in a match-throwing scandal on Saturday when Zhao Yunlei and Tian Qing won the Olympic women’s doubles, as Li Xuerui also took women’s singles gold.
Zhao and Tian beat Japanese fourth seeds Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa 21-10, 25-23 for the doubles gold, underlining their strength in depth after world number one pair Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli were kicked out this week.
Despite the controversy, which also involved players from South Korea and Indonesia, and drew a public apology from China’s head coach Li Yongbo, China are now on course for the first sweep of all five badminton titles.
Zhao also won the mixed doubles on Friday with her boyfriend, Zhang Nan, making her the first player to win two badminton titles at the same Olympics – an achievement that left her in floods of tears.
Later, she said the expulsions – which prompted the angry Yu’s immediate retirement – had spurred the Chinese team to win all five golds. Just the men’s singles and men’s doubles remain.
“As athletes we can’t allow ourselves to be upset, we have to focus on what we do,” she said, before being asked if the throwing scandal had motivated China.
“Yes I believe so, because the Chinese team is a great team. If it is challenged it is encouraged to turn it into something positive,” said Zhao.
Meanwhile, China’s Li stunned world number one Wang Yihan 21-15, 21-23, 21-17 to win the women’s singles title, leaving her team-mate in tears on the podium.
“Of course winning the gold medal is an exciting moment, but the glory should not be owned by myself alone but by the team,” said Li.
“Together with my team-mate, we performed quite brilliantly and gave the crowd an exciting match.”
Li was a last-minute choice in the Olympic squad over former world number one Wang Shixian, after she won the the All-England Open in March.
She was soon 12-7 and 15-8 ahead, moving better than her opponent, and reacting quicker in the flat, mid-court exchanges. Wang worked hard to get back into it and saved a match point in the second game.
The world champion went 9-5 up in the decider but Li hit back with seven points and built a four-point lead. Then, despite being pegged back to 17-17, she had the guile and variety to close it out.
Separately, Saina Nehwal became the first Indian badminton player to earn an Olympic medal when China’s world number one Wang Xin went off injured and in tears from their bronze medal play-off.
Wang was leading 21-18, 1-0 when she was forced to quit after twice collapsing to the court with a knee injury. After the second fall, she was barely able to stand.
“She was taking on water and asking for the court to be mopped and I could tell she was getting tired,” Nehwal said.
“When she sat down I thought it was all part of getting tired, but it wasn’t. And it was very sad what happened.”
In the women’s doubles, European champions Nina Vislova and Valeria Sorokina of Russia took advantage of the decimated field to win the bronze medal match 21-9, 21-10 against Alex Bruce and Michele Lee of Canada.
“We concentrated on not thinking about that match and especially not to think about why it happened,” Sorokina said. “Instead we had to concentrate on our game and on our opponents, and I think we did the right thing.”
On Sunday, China’s world number one Lin Dan will play his Malaysian rival Lee Chong Wei in the men’s final and Chinese pair Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng will play Denmark’s Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen in the doubles title match.
Channel News Asia