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GB pedal-powers to success

Nick Bryant | 08:26 UK time, Wednesday, 20 August 2008

teampursuit_cut_getty.jpgMy heart sank when I heard that the open-top bus was starting to rev up its engine, and that Team GB's victorious athletes were to be paraded through the streets of London.

Can't we stick to pedal and wind power? Seems to work just fine, and is much more carbon neutral. For all the jibes about the Brits sitting and lying down for their medals, you have to admit the golds have been very green.

I thought the news was certain to bring a quick reversal of British fortunes. And then, as I ploughed through all your comments, the GB wunder cyclist Chris Hoy did his thing, as did speedy Victoria Pendleton (beating an Aussie to boot).

So, too, did Christine Ohuruogu - whom the Aussies have already tagged as the Cathy Freeman of the London games (Freeman, an aboriginal athlete, lifted Australian hearts at Sydney in 2000, also by winning the 400m).

"Just brilliant," shouted the Channel 7 commentator Raelene Boyle, a former Olympic sprinter herself. "Just brilliant."

That, I think it's safe to say, is something the Brits and the Aussies share. We both recognise sporting brilliance when we see it, and can sense its broader meaning as well. More than that, we both like to imbue our sporting achievement with broader, national meaning - hence some of the heated comments.

But are we also suffering from another bout of 'Oz/Pom Syndrome', a condition that triggers a stream of nationalist invective? Is it encoded in our DNA? Are we genetically predisposed to needle each other?

On occasions, I have succumbed to this condition myself, as my Aussie wife and my Australian mother-in-law would attest. I just can't help myself.

An example. I've just been trying to track down a sports reporter for help with a piece I'm planning for the lunchtime news, but he wasn't in. "He's probably resigned in protest at having to report on so many British gold medals," I suggested to his colleague who answered the phone. She came straight back with the "per capita" argument

The Oz/Pom Syndrome. There we were parroting the same old lines, ventriloquising the same old barbs. We could not help ourselves.

Then a moment of honesty.

"I just couldn't give a s****," she said. And, in that, I dare say she speaks for much of the Australian nation. The truth is that not that many Aussies are going to lose much sleep over this. And if anybody out there is, we'd love to come round and film you, ideally before lunchtime in Britain, so please get in touch.

That said, I suspect the British performance has unnerved a few people, like grumpy old John Coates, the AOC chief, who spends many of his waking hours thinking how Australia can accumulate more gold medals.

The reason? The British success has had a very Australian edge. Long-term planning, gutsy determination, supreme self-assurance and ruthless execution.

The British cycling team reminds me of the Aussie cricket team that white-washed England. Hayden comes in and hammers the bowling. Then Ponting does it. Then, when he's out, Hussey comes in and continues the punishment. They did it for five test matches running. Victory was not enough. They wanted, and achieved, complete domination. The British cyclists have emulated their success. They are scary.

A few other quick points:

  • the per capita argument may sound a little desperate, but that does not mean it is not valid. Australia does do disproportionately well and has done, pretty much, ever since the national disgrace of 1976, when its team returned from Montreal without a single Gold
  • lpankhurst pointed out that "medal" is a noun not a verb. It is on Channel 7, along with "to podium"... although I have to hear "to flagpole".

So how about a few others? To Hoy. To Pendleton. To Oz/Pom.


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