• Pursuit of happiness? Now there's an idea! (AFP)Source: AFP
Perhaps we should become less preoccupied with the pursuit of Olympic glory and more focused on athletes as individuals, writes Anthony Tan.
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Cycling Central
19 Aug 2016 - 7:25 PM  UPDATED 19 Aug 2016 - 10:30 PM

"I want to finish on my own terms before I start to hate the sport so I'm stepping away completely.

"It's been 10 years since I started and sometimes I wake up and wish I could take a stroll around the river, and not have four hours of efforts."

Could it simply be our Australian track cyclists are not as happy as they could be, which in turn has led to a set of performances left wanting?

The quote above came from Melissa Hoskins after she and her team-mates finished an ignominious fifth in the women's team pursuit last Saturday. The Australian Olympic Committee had expected them to win. They also expected Anna Meares to win gold in the keirin and Annette Edmondson to bring home the bacon in the omnium.

Now, it seems, at the ripe old age of 25, and well before she's reached her physical peak, Hoskins is calling time on her career.

"To place an inordinate amount of pressure on a once-in-four-year event to the detriment of all else, simply to satisfy some stupid political agenda?"

If there was an overarching theme among our track cycling contingent at the Rio Games, it was one of overbearing pressure, and following that, unbridled disappointment. Among all the competing nations at the velodrome, I didn't see a sadder looking bunch of athletes. Immediately following their respective events, they looked like they'd come from a funeral. Looking back, Hoskins' training crash three days prior to her qualification round was emblematic of the entire track team's mojo.

If the goal is to perform at the Olympics, the Australian Sports Commission's 'Winning Edge' model, introduced in 2012 after the London Games and which rewards sports financially for medals at world championships, appears counter-intuitive. As far as track cycling is concerned, Great Britain, the most successful nation the past three Games, has shown how little they care about the worlds beyond its use as a test event, therefore skewing our own team's performances.

"It may take us to actually take a step back and really take a thrust into an Olympic Games from a couple of years out," Kevin Tabotta, Cycling Australia's high performance manager, told reporters Sunday in Rio, after the track events had come to a close and Australia had a silver and bronze apiece to show for their efforts. By contrast, Team GB, where every member took home a medal of some colour, came away with six gold, four silver and two bronze.

"Now that's going to take some understanding from funders, and also from athletes, because there's an expectation now in Australia to perform every time we line up at a world championship.

"We need to master an August peak and we haven't nailed that yet," said Tabotta.

OK, the Poms appear to have established a blueprint for Olympic success on the track, but for the last three Games, they've have 30 million pounds (A$52M) each quadrennium to play with; Australia has $34M to cater for all four disciplines: road, track, mountain-bike and BMX.

Of course, we could place less emphasis on the Olympics and go back to being loud and proud, rather than blasé like the Brits, about winning a world championship. What's wrong with a world bloody championship, anyway? To place an inordinate amount of pressure on a once-in-four-year event to the detriment of all else, simply to satisfy some stupid political agenda? The only thing we're going to produce is a bunch of headcases, as far as I'm concerned.

The director of the Australian Institute of Sport, Matt Favier, said the true assessment of Winning Edge will not be fully known until the 10-year strategy is at or near completion, saying in an open letter ahead of these Games that "Rio is not a referendum on the success of Winning Edge".

"It has given our high performance sporting system a clear definition of success," he wrote. "We didn't set easy targets, instead we have bold aspirations, supported by peak bodies like the AOC. We are working towards a top-five Olympic finish."

Is top-10, which is where we're likely to end up this Sunday, so bad?

Among the first ten, only the Netherlands has a smaller population than us. Perhaps Mr Favier and his friends at the AIS, along with the AOC and ASC, should redefine success beyond an arbitrary top-five objective and forever pressuring athletes to strive for this inanimate object they call an Olympic gold medal, which, once their sporting careers are over, bears little worth in the real world. Our performances may actually improve as a result.

Geez, I'm beginning to sound like Michael Drapac, aren't I?

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