Is it a Kiwi-inspired comeback?
Mon, 06 Aug 2012 10:57p.m.
By Doug Conway
Sally Pearson scorches over the hurdles, the Boomers net a last-second winner, Michael Diamond shoots another perfect score, the sailors set themselves up for gold, the Stingers snatch an extra-time water polo win ... what's causing Australia's sudden change of Olympic fortunes? Could it be New Zealand?
The sight of the Kiwi contingent - less than half the size of Australia's 400-strong team - 10 places ahead on the medal table after racking up three gold medals to one hasn't escaped the Australians' attention.
The possibility of a trans-Tasman impetus even provoked an official Australian response.
"We don't want to suffer jokes for the next three years and 50 weeks until [the 2016 Olympics in] Rio," said Australian deputy chef de mission Kitty Chiller.
"So hopefully we can overcome them. They've had a fantastic start."
As if on cue, on Monday world champion hurdler Sally Pearson clocked the fastest-ever Olympic first-round time on Tuesday, almost half a second quicker than anyone else in her heat.
Minutes later Boomers star Patty Mills nailed a buzzer-beating three-pointer to give Australia a stunning 82-80 upset win over Russia in the men's basketball tournament.
Bidding for a third career gold medal, Michael Diamond produced another perfect round of shooting, hitting all 25 targets to stay on top of the men's trap leaderboard with a faultless 100 points.
At Weymouth in southern England, Tom Slingsby had a big lead in the Laser dinghy class and just needed to finish seventh or better in his last race to win the gold medal.
Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen also had the chance to secure a gold in the 49er skiffs, as did 470 class sailors Malcolm Page and Mat Belcher.
All of this came after a night when Australia's women's water polo team showed what their coach called "more heart than Phar Lap" to sink China in a penalty shoot-out and make the Olympic semi-finals.
For good measure Steve Solomon became Australia's first 400m track finalist for decades.
The collective grunt could not have been better timed as Australia had slumped to 24th position on the medals table, well behind the Kiwis and with no realistic chance of getting anywhere near third-placed arch-rivals Great Britain.
The trans-Tasman taunts had already started. Asked what it was like to be on top of the Australians, Kiwi triathlete Ryan Sissons said: "The who? It's a long time coming, I suppose. There's still another week, so we're not going to start boasting yet, but yeah, it's pretty good."
Australian officials repeated their belief that funding levels for elite sport were not the cause of the nation's failure to reach expectations in London, pointing out that only seven countries had exceeded Australia's overall medals total.
"It's about quality rather than quantity, and how we are spending it (the money)," said deputy chief Kitty Chiller, who was at odds with a call for more funds from Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper.
"Kevan has obviously seen how well Team GB is going, and the money that has been put in, so it's a logical conclusion I suppose from his point of view," she said.
"But from the AOC's point of view, we are happy with the funding we have been given. New Zealand is a good example of a country who has less money than us and at the moment has more success in terms of gold medals. So it's not just about the money."
Australian athlete liaison officer and former rugby great John Eales said criticism of the Australian team's performance "weighs heavily" on athletes and could be "pretty cutting".
"I can tell you for every time someone is disappointed back at home the athletes are more than twice as disappointed," he said.
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