For an elite athlete, marching in the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (unless you happen to be Dawn Fraser, Susie O’Neil or Leisel Jones, of course).
This year, that’s an opportunity the Australian swimming stars won’t enjoy, after the team’s new head coach Jacco Verhaeren revealed the entire squad would miss the 2016 Rio Olympic Games Opening Ceremony so they can stick together as a team.
Swimming starts on the first day of competition and in the past, athletes swimming early in the program skipped the opening ceremony, while their team mates competing later had the choice to participate.
In terms of strategy, Verhaeren’s decision makes a cold kind of sense. The theory is the team that sticks together wins gold medals together.
The veteran coach was brought in after Australia's disappointing turn at the 2012 London Olympic Games to lift our swimmers back to the top spot. Given the squad’s seven gold sweep at the 2015 world championships in Russia, his team player mentality is obviously doing much to boost Australia’s chances at a Number 1 ranking in Rio.
But where does that leave the athletes? We have a history of crushing the swimmers who don’t live up to our expectations, or making them so focused on winning they find themselves without a compass when it comes time to adjust to life outside the pool.
Sure, everyone wants to stand on the podium with a gold medal glinting on their chest but as taboo as this may sound in country that pins its hopes of glory on our athletes, gold is important but the Olympic Games are supposed to be about more than just the medals.
It sounds kind of hokey but the core Olympic value is “not to win but to take part”. The Opening Ceremony is the one event for athletes where nothing lays ahead but glory and where they are untouched by failure and defeat. Instead of taking their place in that inspiring parade and enjoying their moment of unadulterated pride, our Olympic swimmers will be hunkered down together worrying about the pressure of bringing home the gold. As a team.