Horton's Medal Was A Win For The Got-It-Good Guys

Faster. Higher. Stronger. Richer.

16/08/2016 5:38 AM AEST | Updated 16/08/2016 5:39 AM AEST
Dominic Ebenbichler / Reuters
"There is an undeniable link between how much money is spent on an Olympic team and the number of medals they bring home."

When Australia's Mack Horton won his gold medal, he said it was a win for the good guys. He missed out two words. It was a win for the got-it-good guys.

The Chinese swimmer Sun Yang tested positive for the prohibited stimulant Trimetazidine in 2014, but he's done his time and should be given a fresh start with a presumption of innocence. Both he and Mack, however, hold a massive advantage over someone such as Sierra Leonean swimmer Osman Kamara. An advantage which can be as great as that gained through drug use, yet is perfectly legal.

This advantage is government funding.

In Australia we throw mountains of money at prospective Olympians and surround them with the latest technology to give them an edge. Even private investors get in on the act -- our swimming team enjoyed the luxury of a chartered flight for their journey to Rio.

Let's look at the figures. We have 421 competitors at the Rio Olympics. That's one of the largest teams attending, coming from a nation which ranks 53rd in the population stakes. We have sent more competitors than 1.3 billion-strong China. We're punching above our weight but not because we're physically superior. It's because we spend more than other nations per capita.

There is an undeniable link between how much money is spent on an Olympic team and the number of medals they bring home.

A recent article highlighted this massive cost to the taxpayer. Based on a prediction of Australia winning 37 medals at the Rio Olympics, each medal will cost us $9.2 million. That's not just for gold medals but silver and bronze as well. Do you think a medal is worth that much?

To match this, Sierra Leone would probably need to focus all of its meagre sports funding onto just one individual to stand a decent chance of winning a medal. That would be a lot of pressure to heap on one set of shoulders.

What is the answer? How can we make the playing field level, so that all athletes are reliant only on their natural talent, physique and personal drive to win? There is no way, unless every individual in a given field is trained by the same coach at the same facility using the same techniques. And that's not going to happen, is it?

We go on and on about how it's wrong to use illegal substances. (It must be noted that the definition of illegal varies over time. Between 1984 and 2004, there was a strict limit on how much caffeine an Olympic athlete could consume prior to competition. Now it's perfectly alright to knock back as many lattes as you like before your race). But we must also acknowledge the immense benefit to athletes of advanced training techniques, especially when we are targeting them at ever younger ages to sculpt the champions of the future.

Natural talent will always be the critical factor, the foundation of all great athletes. Usain Bolt would still be a world-record holder, even if he trained without any assistance and his opponents used state-of-the-art facilities, coaches and software programmes. But how many others have made it to the pinnacle of world sports because of access to modern facilities, cutting-edge technology, priority medical attention and a healthy pot of funding? And how many have failed to achieve their dreams because their government can't afford these things?

The message is simple. Everyone around the world is equal. Some are just more equal than others.

Faster. Higher. Stronger. Richer.

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