FEDERAL Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has urged Aussies to get behind their Olympians after criticism about a lack of gold in London.
At the time of print, Australia was 24th on the medals table, with a single win in the women’s 4×100 freestyle relay which came at the beginning of the Games. At this rate, Australia’s 2012 Olympians are shaping as the worst performing team in two decades.
However speaking to reporters in Sydney on Monday, Mr Abbott said the competition wasn’t over yet.
“We’ve still got several days of competition left,” he said.
“I think the important thing is to get behind our athletes and to cheer them on because we want them to come home knowing they’ve had the full support of the Australian people.”
He said the athletes were giving the London Games their best shot.
“We all have days when we’re performing better than others and the important thing is that every single Australian athlete and competitor out there has done his or her level best,” he said.
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has slammed critics complaining about Australia winning just one gold medal so far.
“The lack of understanding of the efforts that our athletes have gone through to simply make the Olympics, the lack of appreciation for those who have won medals is just appalling,” Mr O’Farrell told reporters in Sydney.
Meanwhile our Australian athletes have defended their clutch of silvers and dearth of gold.
Long jumper Mitchell Watt, who won silver on Saturday night after going into the Games as a gold medal favourite, lashed out at the Australian media for being too critical.
“People need to start understanding that it’s not easy to win an Olympic gold medal and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a silver medal,” Watt said.
“The first question I got was `a disappointing result?’ The team’s happy, I’m happy, the coach is happy, I’ve got thousands of messages back home that they’re happy and the only people that aren’t happy are you guys (the media).
“So you need to wake up.”
Swimmer Cate Campbell, part of Australia’s only gold medal in the 4x100m freestyle relay way back on the first day of competition, said the athletes were giving their all.
“I think it’s maybe almost a little bit hurtful to say we’ve been underperforming because we go out there and pour our heart and soul into every single performance,” she said.
“It’s not that we haven’t been performing, it’s just that the world has stepped up.”
Kevan Gosper, Australia’s most senior member of the International Olympic Committee, says the government must increase funding if it wants to win more gold medals.
The extra funding should be spent on top-level coaches and giving athletes experience in international competitions.
“The money is the difference between silver and gold,” Gosper told ABC Radio.
The Crawford review of sports funding had set Australia back substantially in the race for gold.
“We’ve been down on the sort of financial support that we were accustomed to when compared with the financial support that’s coming through from other countries, particularly here in Europe,” Gosper said.
“The fact is you do need more money in international sports and preparing if you’re going to compete with the world.”
Australia’s Olympic boss John Coates believes there needs to be a greater emphasis on sport in schools in the hope of finding the next Cathy Freeman or Ian Thorpe.
The Australian Olympic Committee president says before the next Olympics in 2016 Australia needs to “talent-build” by making sport a focus in schools.
He has called on the federal government to consider changing its policy and funding to give priority to school sports.
“Perhaps the area that needs a lot of attention – and if not, funding and government intention in terms of policy – is getting sport back into the school curricula,” Coates told the ABC on Monday.
The British were making “a big thing” of that being one of the legacies they’re looking towards, he said.
“They’ve been achieving that, a greater emphasis on sport in the schools.”
Some children would benefit from the health and fitness, but the next Freeman or Thorpe may also be discovered, Coates said.
Federal Sports Minister Kate Lundy is happy with the level of sports participation in schools.
“What we’re seeing over at the Olympics at the moment is that we’re coming so close so many times … and it’s just not going our way,” she told ABC radio.
“But we’re still way up there with the best of the best in the world in sport.”
Senator Lundy said it was important to continue to innovate to keep sports programs strong.
“Australia’s great strength is we’ve always punched above our weight in sport and we need to be smarter about how we use our resources to stay right up there,” she said.