I was thrilled to see Sam Stosur win the US open recently. She’s a down-to-earth, hard-working player with the skill to take on the world’s best. She showed up arguably the best women’s player ever, and even though Serena Williams was certifiably insane that day, she still found time to praise “Our Sam.”
It was truly a great Australian sporting achievement, and is much more impressive than anything ever accomplished by Steve Hooker, Cathy Freeman, and just about every Australian Swimmer.
“WOAH! BACK IT UP! WHAT?! More impressive than World Champion Ranga Steve? Or Cathy’s run in 2000? Or Steph Rice or Libby Trickett?”
Hell yes. And here’s why:
The phrase ‘World Champion’ has the unfortunate ability to make Australians lose their minds.
“Best in the whole world!” the people cry. “World beater, smashing the opposition and showing true Aussie spirit!”
People forget that World Champion is actually a relative term.
I’ve heard otherwise sane people say that Walter Lindrum is Australia’s greatest ever sportsperson because he won two consecutive billiards world championships. BILLIARDS! The man held the title for 17 straight years because of a lack of competition! Am I supposed to be impressed that Steve Hooker beat a couple of hundred professional pole vaulters? Or that Cathy won a non-Blue-Ribbon event, beating (at most) a few thousand people to the Gold? Or that Australia managed to win a grand total of TWO gold medals at the 2011 World Swimming Championships? You know which country beat us at swimming this year? England.
To help put things in perspective when this topic comes up, I like to equate being world champion with climbing a mountain.
The simple fact that Australian Sport fans tend to forget is that Soccer is Everest, and that things like the Pole Vault and obscure athletic events are tiny molehills. Our much-loved domestic sports are of moderate significance on the global stage but getting even halfway up Everest still puts you much higher overall than someone on top of Mount Kosciusko.
Which is why Sam Stosur’s achievement is fantastic: Tennis is very large mountain and she’s very close to the top.
This analogy serves me well when I try to explain to people why Tim Cahill and Andrew Bogut are massively underappreciated in this country. Cahill is arguably Australia’s best soccer player and is in the top echelon of players worldwide. He’s not a top 50 player but plenty of top flight teams would love to have him on board. He’s certainly towards the top of Everest. Yet we only show him any love once every four years when he does little things like scoring the most significant goals in Australian history.
Bogut is an elite basketballer, and when healthy is a top 50 player near the top of the world’s second-tallest mountain. He is equally as talented offensively as he is defensively, and he is considered one of the finest true centres left in the game. He should be a lock in the top 5 of any ‘Aussie Sports Stars’ rankings… but he’s not. We also missed out on watching Patty Mills announce his arrival as a top-level player at the Beijing Olympics in the Australia-v-America pool clash because Channel 7 chose to stay with the Bronze-Medal playoff softball game. SOFTBALL! No disrespect to the Softballers, but I’ve never been closer to smashing a television in my life.
If you pop Tim and Andrew on their respective mountains, I think they’re pretty much at equal altitude, a stone’s throw above Sam and Cadel (who conquered his mountain when he conquered the French mountains).
Footy and League players might stand atop Kosciusko, but they’re still a fair way below Timmy on Everest. After all, being a successful soccer player involves being in the top 1% of millions of players worldwide… which you cannot say about League or AFL.
I appreciate that Steve Hooker and Cathy Freeman have both shown dedication to their craft and that is worthy of praise. All I’m asking is that we keep things in perspective.
I hope Sam can keep her head and her health and win a few more Grand Slams. Tennis is a major sport and Australia doesn’t have a huge number of elite athletes or teams on decent-sized mountains.
Sam, on the insanely small chance someone sends you this link (or you google yourself), keep up the good work! You’ve just shown us the value of hard work, proving that Australians don’t have to resign ourselves to conquering small, achievable mountains.
We’re capable of more.