Aussie colonials coming back for London OlympicsBy Dennis Passa
AP Sports Writer
BRISBANE, Australia— With all the intense hype Down Under about the London Olympics, it’s obvious that Australians not only love competing against the English, but are looking forward to a contest on British soil. Seriously.
Many of the 410 athletes on Australia’s Olympic squad are already in and around Britain or close by at training camps. For those who remain, along with the rest of this sports-crazy population of 22.3 million, there is growing anticipation that the Aussies who will join their already 200,000 or so compatriots who live and work in London will do well in the Olympic medal count.
And, better yet, if they do it against the Brits in close finishes.
The long sporting rivalry between the countries was spawned by cricket and the so-called Ashes series staged roughly every two years since the 1880s. Australia dominated the series for almost two decades until England won the last two series back-to-back. Throw in rugby — most Aussies recall the Wallabies beating England to win the 1991 World Cup in London and then losing to the English on home soil in the 2003 final — and there is that competitive, often surly edge between the countries even when the Olympics aren’t on.
Laurie Lawrence, a former national swimming coach who will be spending his eighth Olympics in the athletes village as an activities support coordinator with the Australian Olympic Committee, didn’t pull any punches regarding the rivalry in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
“Every time the Aussies meet the Poms,” Lawrence said, using Australia’s colloquial name for the English, “we want to beat them.”
“That is our heritage. We started with 11 convict ships that the Poms sent the dregs of society over on. Now it’s a case of just wanting to let them know the ‘dregs’ are still here.”
Expanding slightly on Lawrence’s version, here’s a brief history: Between 1788 and 1868, about 160,000 convicts were sent to Australia from Britain, commencing with the “First Fleet” which carried 780 convicts to Botany Bay at Sydney. The majority were poor and illiterate and records indicate eight out of 10 prisoners were convicted for larceny or petty theft.
The seeds of the rivalry between the Colonial masters and the far-flung former subjects started right there.
At London this month, Colin Moynihan, chairman of the British Olympic Association, and AOC president John Coates hope to pick each other’s pockets, depending on the medal results between the countries. Coates and Moynihan, rowing enthusiasts who first met at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, have some champagne riding on it.
“We have bottles of Bollinger on total medals won, and a magnum on the golds,” Coates says.
The AOC isn’t issuing total medal predictions for London, just aiming for a top-five finish in gold and in overall medals counts, and to have athletes on the podium in 14 or more sports.
Australia won 58 overall medals at its home Olympics in Sydney in 2000, including 16 golds to finish fourth behind the United States, Russia and China. At Athens in 2004, that total dropped to 49 overall medals but the number of golds increased to 17.
In 2008 at Beijing, Australia’s gold medal total dropped to 14 among 46 overall medals. Britain, which has roughly three times the population of Australia, won 19 golds to finish fourth overall — two spots ahead of the Australians.
The old rivalry won’t take long to get started at London — the Opals, as the Australian women’s basketball team is known, take on Britain in the last match of the first full day of competition on Saturday, July 28.
Led by Seattle Storm star Lauren Jackson, Australia, which has won the silver medal the past three games, should get the visitors off to a winning start in the 17-day Olympic grudge match against the hosts.
There will be rivalries in the Olympic pool between the countries, and diver Matt Mitcham’s attempt to repeat as 10-meter platform gold medalist will no doubt face a major test from young British star Tom Daley — as well as the Chinese.
But the most anticipated slice of Anglo-Australian competition will come between cyclists Anna Meares and Victoria Pendleton in the sprint, which has emerged as the greatest rivalry in track cycling.
The two haven’t spoken much to each other since Australian Meares crashed with Pendleton on the track and was relegated at the world championships in Bordeaux, France, in 2006. “I was really annoyed,” Pendleton says about the encounter. “She likes to push the rules. I don’t.”
Since then, their head-to-heads have looked something like this:
— Pendleton beats Meares in the 2008 Beijing gold medal final and again at the world championship semifinals the same year.
— Meares beats Pendleton in the Manchester World Cup semifinals in 2011 and again at the world championships in the Netherlands.
— Meares beats Pendleton in the semifinals at a World Cup meet in London in February — “I don’t think I’ve seen three matches (so fast). We both paid for it,” Meares said at the time. And at the world championships in Melbourne, Pendleton beats Meares 2-1 after a crash and a relegation in the semis.
“All sportspeople push the limits,” Meares said of her dust-ups with Pendleton. “Sometimes the lines get crossed and the people who make the judgment on that are the,” race officials.
Next up, with Meares and Pendleton level at 1-1 in races this year, the “Pringle” velodrome in London: women’s sprint qualifying on Aug. 5, quarterfinals on Aug. 6 and the semifinals and final on Aug. 7.
With just one more medal in London, the Australian Olympic Committee says Meares, who is training in Italy, will become the first female cyclist from any country to win four Olympic track medals, and the first to win a medal at three games.
Overall, the velodrome will provide the biggest dose of the Australian and British rivalry. After Australia won five golds and nine medals overall at Athens in 2004, the British won 14 medals to Australia’s sole silver at Beijing four years later.
A compelling duel was set up in London at the world championships in Melbourne when Britain won five golds to Australia’s three, but Australia won medals in eight of the 10 Olympic events and Britain in six.
Lawrence, whose swimmers set 23 world records while under his tutelage, is like many Australians who relish the intensity of their battles with the English but don’t usually carry Meares vs. Pendleton-style animosity off the playing fields.
A motivational speaker whose zany actions and offbeat sense of humor means his listeners never know quite what to expect, Lawrence becomes slightly serious when he talks about the upcoming games. He believes the British will put on an excellent Olympics — maybe not as great as Sydney in 2000, but pretty exceptional.
“I honestly believe that these are going to be one of the greatest games,” Lawrence says. “London is one of the greatest cities of the world, the British people are great supporters of sport. It’ll be their home Olympics, and I think it’s going to be absolutely sensational.”