Opalescent Olympics

Opalescent Olympics

Author’s Note: I’m taking a break from writing about tech to write about sports. Any readers who aren’t interested should wait until next week, when I sort-of-promise to write about the Python Requests library.

Opals celebrating.
Australian Opals enjoying their Bronze Medal victory. Image courtesy of London2012.com.

The 2012 Summer Olympics are coming to a close. As I write this article I’m sitting in a beautiful British sunset, drinking red wine and basking in the warm glow of having spent two weeks around my favourite international sporting event. As an Australian (even though I am an ex-pat), I have something of an inbuilt cultural love of sporting events of all kinds, and the Olympics is unquestionably the greatest of all the sporting stages.

There have been a great many things to love about this year’s games. Ignoring, for a moment, the fact that in very un-British fashion the entire event has worked out more-or-less without a hitch, the games have provided a wonderful quantity of drama and excitement. It is always a joy to watch the best athletes in the world all on the same stage, but I have a feeling that this has been the most exciting of all the games I’ve had the pleasure to see.

For me, the highlight has been a sport I’ve never really had the chance to watch before: women’s basketball. I’m a big fan of basketball: I played a bit as a teenager, and I’ve always thought that it is one of the best spectator sports around. However, and I suspect this is true of most people, I’ve only really ever watched men’s basketball. Women’s basketball, like most women’s sport, has really been something I was only aware of, rather than engaged in.

However, this Olympics I found myself hooked. I stumbled onto the first game of the Australian Opals campaign. The Opals, ranked 2nd in the world at the start of the Olympics, turned out to create the greatest spectator experience the Olympics had to offer. I ended up watching every game of their Bronze-medal-winning campaign.

While I was writing this post, I had written fully 2000 words on the reason people should be watching women’s basketball. However, in the interim, the Opals have registered an 83-74 victory over Russia in the bronze medal game. This is a team that, but for the juggernaut that is American basketball, played like gold-medallists, and through a bit of bad luck ended up meeting the United States in the semi-final instead of the final, leading to them walking away with bronze medals.

These girls led me and everyone else who followed them on an emotional roller coaster. The team was an almost equal mix of veterans and rookies, and both groups of women played with heart and determination. They put their hearts, bodies and souls on the line in green and gold, and they have earned the gratitude and respect not just of me but of everyone they played for. They won bronze medals: I personally would have liked to see them win gold, but the fact that they didn’t is not their failing. I have no time for journalists and individuals who criticise athletes for failing to win gold medals, and I won’t do it. Instead, I congratulate them and thank them.

I’m not a journalist, a celebrity or someone with a great platform from which to shout my praise, so instead I devote a page on my blog. I would like to thank the following women, in the order of their squad number:

  • Jenna O’Hea (4) - Age 25, one Olympics (Bronze Medal).
  • Samantha Richards (5) - Age 29, one Olympics (Bronze Medal).
  • Jennifer Screen (6) - Age 30, two Olympics (one Silver Medal, one Bronze Medal).
  • Abby Bishop (7) - Age 23, one Olympics (Bronze Medal).
  • Suzy Batkovic (8) - Age 31, three Olympics (two Silver Medals, one Bronze Medal).
  • Kathleen MacLeod (9) - Age 25, one Olympics (Bronze Medal).
  • Kristi Harrower (10) - Age 37, four Olympics (three Silver Medals, one Bronze Medal).
  • Laura Summerton (11) - Age 28, two Olympics (one Silver Medal, one Bronze Medal).
  • Belinda Snell (12) - Age 31, three Olympics (two Silver Medals, one Bronze Medal).
  • Rachel Jarry (13) - Age 20, one Olympics (Bronze Medal).
  • Liz Cambage (14) - Age 20, one Olympics (Bronze Medal).
  • Lauren Jackson (15) - Age 31, four Olympics (three Silver Medals, one Bronze Medal), all-time high scorer in Women’s Olympic Basketball.

Each one had court time, and each one gave everything they had for the team while on the court. They conducted themselves with grace, dignity and good-humour while producing performances as good as or better than any other athlete Australia sent to the Olympics.

Particular praise should be singled out for Kristi Harrower. Today represented the last Olympic game she will ever compete in, and she went out with a bang (21 points).

As for the rest of the women, many of them will return in Opals colours to represent Australia in Rio. Given the difficulty of watching women’s basketball in the UK, that’s likely to be the next time I can see them perform. That’s now the event I am most looking forward to at the next Olympics.

I don’t know what Australia did to earn such wonderful athletes, but I’m certainly glad we have them. Thank you so much, ladies: you made this Olympics special for me.