2012 Olympic Games – Week 1

Olympic Game’s fever has taken over the globe and amidst the record breaks, racial commentary from athletes, doping scandals and PR agencies promoting infidelity websites for athletes there are journalists everywhere thinking of the next hot headline and waiting for an athlete to fall from grace. Has our thirst for juicy headlines overshadowed the Olympic spirit and hampered the performance of our athletes?

Before the Games we had the utmost confidence in our athletes. James Magnussen is a perfect example of solid hopes we placed in one athlete to bring us home the gold thanks to strong media attention prior to the games, outstanding performances and interviews radiating confidence and invincibility. Like a good salesman he told us we bought a Ferrari.

So what happened the moment he didn’t live up to expectation? The media and much of the nation turned on him when he needed support most.  Now some will argue had he not shown such a consistent self assured, perhaps verging on cocky, attitude everyone would have been kinder but the question begs did we have the right to put someone under such scrutiny because he felt confident leading into the games. Was James overconfident or was he just asked questions that can only be answered in one way “yes I am going to win”.

The flip side is the winners circle. High performing athletes are heavily scrutinised by the mistakes of the past and disbelief when someone does exceptionally well. Young Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen blitzed the last leg of her medley, smashing previous record holders out of the water. Questions are now being posed; how did a 16 year old girl beat the previous male record? Were the same questions asked when Phelps broke every record in the book? This win was gold for not only Ye but media outlets around the world.

It comes down to how you handle the media. Sally Pearson who embodies everything Australia loves. Humble winner who has the “I’ll give it my best” attitude but continuously shows how talented she really is only on the track. She won the hearts of Australian media and spectators alike. Why? She comes without arrogance and is not a tall poppy waiting gloriously to be taken down a peg or two. Sally never gives too much away – Aussie sweetheart or just media savvy.

So how does the media attention affect the performance of our athletes? Probably less than we think (or maybe more), but like any good PR knows it does shape our perception of the athletes. Are headlines of off field frivolities and personality flaws really what we want to be publicising about our athletes when support comes from the public who read our papers? Unfortunately, happy flawless athletes don’t sell papers. Accessibility of news and need for constant updates have taken the focus from performance updates and wins alone to delving into the deeper darker side of our athlete’s just for content. So why is this style of reporting so popular? Because people want answers when our winners aren’t winners and the winners are…. 16 year old Chinese school girls.

Australians’ quintessentially do not like arrogance, tantrum throwers or a bad sport and unfortunately these traits are not unheard of amongst high profile athletes. The media has partial responsibility though for shaping perceptions and overall the support we have for the athletes representing our country. Reporting of the Olympic Games needs to focus less on controversy and more on what our athletes (not just Australian) are good at – Sport.