Three days into the London Games and while the green and gold may not have featured much on the podium so far, we have plenty of other Olympic greatness to be thankful for. Danny Boyle’s none too subtle middle finger to the Tories (aka the “opening ceremony”) was the best in years, but it was overshadowed by an even more spectacular performance. A display of grace and poise. A feat of strength and resilience. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I refer to Our Lauren.
Lauren Jackson is just the fourth woman to be granted the privilege of being the Australian flag bearer at an Olympics opening ceremony. By bestowing this honour on her, chef de mission Nick Green (he of the Goulburn Valley Foursome) showed himself to be a master of PR.
You see there had been a bit of an uproar. On the way to the Mother Land, our male Australian basketballers were gifted all the comforts of business class air travel while the women were forced to slum it in premium economy. Which we all know isn’t that premium at all.
Differing budget priorities between the men’s and women’s programs were blamed but Green saw an opportunity to quiet the chatter. While Jackson came to the party in describing her joy at being chosen to carry the Australian flag, many others frowned at its tokenism. After all, what good is championing a woman by selecting her to lead the team, but marginalising her by letting her ride cattle class? Long-leggedness of the male team be damned – at six-foot-five, she is taller than many of them.
The Opals’ Olympic track record is impressive: silver medals at the past three Games, and they are ranked second in the world heading into this year’s competition. On the other hand, the men’s team – the Boomers – has never brought home a medal. Not even a chocolate one. Women make up a massive 41.5 per cent of the basketball world in Australia, yet reportedly struggle to make minimum wage from their playing contracts.
This is the first year in the history of the modern Olympics that each country has had a woman on its team. Some of these women have spent their lives in world-class facilities, training every day to become better, faster, stronger. Others have faced a very different reality of persecution, violence and public humiliation (one male Saudi tweeter wrote that “one should not hesitate to describe their participation as shameful and a great sin.”).
What they do share is an insatiable desire to show the world what they are made of. And do you know what that is? It’s not sugar and spice and all things nice. It’s not even two X-chromosomes and a ticking biological clock. It’s courage, fearlessness and ferocity. It’s raw determination, the same that burns in their male counterparts.
When the world is watching, Australia is proud of its female athletes, eager to parade them around the stadium. But behind closed doors – or should we say, the economy curtains – they remain second class sportspeople.
Photo credit: MR FOOJI