Two days in to the London Olympics swimming and again expectations are on the agenda. While I ate my breakfast they were talking about the risk of raising expectations in the media and creating pressure, rather than support, for home athletes.
Yesterday, the Australians were expected to win and win well. Their own media (not themselves) had labelled them the ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ as they included the fastest man in the world this year, James ‘the Missile’ Magnussen, and the second, James ‘ the Rocket’ Roberts. In the end, the Australians misfired but it was the relatively unfancied French (I say relatively, as they were still one of the big 4 teams) who won, with Yannick Agnel overhauling Ryan Lochte in the final leg.
Did the Australians, and James Magnussen in particular, choke? Well, collectively it’s fair to say that they underperformed. It’s also true that they carried a lot of expectation on their shoulders. Perhaps it was just too much pressure for the young, relatively inexperienced stars of the team to handle. I did notice a bit of ‘sledging’ in the heats, which suggests that the Aussies may have taken their eye off the process, off their own performances, and focused on the Americans and the result.
Meanwhile, Team GB had a defending champion in the pool for the first time in twenty years. Rebecca Adlington was not favourite to win this time, at least among the swimming community, but the British media had her down as one of our hopes for a first gold of the games. Qualifying in eighth from the morning heats, Becky was clearly aware of the expectations as she felt the need to tweet “Just sneaked into tonights final in 8th place! Not expecting anything tonight, all I can do is my best thank you for all the support x”.
Still, Becky is a racer and performed brilliantly to pick up a bronze medal from lane 8, and Team GB have their first medal in the pool (after Lizzie Armitstead won our first medal of the games in the women’s road race). Phew!
It is worth noting that expectations are not all bad. Look at Camille Muffat. She has led the way all year in the 400m freestyle and met expectations in winning, with the apparent confidence of someone who knows they have done what they need to do, and just needs to execute the plan. An approach, perhaps, the Aussie men might have benefited from.