When Cate Campbell touched the wall to end her 50m freestyle final, she did so eight hundredths of a second behind the winner, Pernille Blume. Three more swimmers touched the wall between Cate and Pernille. Get a stopwatch; get a feel for how quick eight hundredths of a second is. Five swimmers separated by eight hundredths of a seconds.
Listening to much of the commentary, you would assume Cate Campbell’s performance was disappointing; wasting an opportunity for glory and a chance to do Australia proud. But, which of the four swimmers who finished ahead of her are undeserving? Which one, like Cate, hasn’t dedicated a significant portion of their lives to this sport? Is the difference between success and failure really eight hundredths of a second?
There’s a line of thought that the Australian swimming team has failed to meet expectations – that they should have won more gold medals. Seems to me that the Olympics is essentially a celebration of losing. Eleven thousand elite athletes gathered together to compete and the vast majority will lose. Is that a waste? Is it a waste to turn up knowing you’re not a medal chance, but compete anyway? That’s the reality that faces most Olympic athletes. They’re not there to win, but to compete. Is that disappointing? And who should be disappointed by that? Competition can't simply be about winning - otherwise we're all destined to fail.
As a spectator, I understand we want all our Australian representatives to win. We want to cheer for winners – especially when they have positioned themselves so well and seem to have a better chance than most.
As a parent I think the Australian swimming team is tremendously successful. Look at the quality of human being it is producing. I can’t remember seeing such grace in the face of disappointment; in face of media scrutiny and banks of cameras. These young people can’t define themselves by Olympic success or failure – it is merely a chapter in their lives. As a parent, I hope my son finds something in his life he’s passionate enough about to dedicate four years of his life to pursue. And then, I hope he doesn’t let eight hundredths of a second define him.