My barrista is Slovakian.
I know this, because I went in for coffee today, and I asked where he was from. The Olympics was playing on the huge flatscreen suspended on the wall, and I wanted to know who he was rooting for – so to speak.
“Hey, you guys just won a bunch of medals, didn’t you? In the kayaking?” I have no idea where I pulled that fact from, because I haven’t really watched the kayaking much.
He smiled. “Yeah. Three golds, in the paddling.” We chatted a bit more about that, which was far more interesting than our usual patter about the weather, and I could see that it made him very proud to talk about his country’s success.
I totally understand. Last week, I stood in a crowded classroom at lunchtime, surrounded by students and fellow teachers, and staring up at the giant TV screen on the wall. We were shouting “Come on!” to Stephanie Rice, as she swam half a body length behind the American girl. In that last 20 metres she surged forward and touched first to win her second gold medal and break the world record. The room erupted as we celebrated her win with all the other Aussies around the world who were within sight of a television. I was so proud – of her, and of Australia.
Last night I had tears in my eyes as I heard the Australian anthem yet again. We won gold in the 470 sailing – men’s and women’s – and as the young Perth women stood on the podium, grinning their faces off, I grinned with them – so proud. Then came the women’s triathlon result – Gold and Bronze! Brilliant! And that feeling is compounded as the medals keep coming.
Yes, there is little like the Olympics to inject a shot of national pride in even the hardest of hearts. Having said that, I do have one small confession. On the 18th, when Michael Phelps and the U.S. relay team were competing against us, I quietly hoped that we’d get Silver. I just wanted Michael to get his 8 medals. At any other moment I would have been screaming at the television, willing our guys to win, but the 8 medal thing transcends borders.
And we did win silver in that race, which is still incredible. You see, we are just a tiny country population-wise, so our pool of talent is much smaller than the U.S or even Great Britain. Yet we are hovering between 3rd and 5th on the medal tally. China has 61 times our population, but only twice as many medals. (I did hear yesterday, that if Michael Phelps were a country, he’d be 6th on the medal tally).
Australia has medaled in kayaking, diving, equestrian, sailing, triathlon, track, swimming, shooting and rowing – so far. We have much to be proud of.
So, when I hear the chant “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” coming from the Olympic stands, I can’t help but reply, “Oi, Oi, Oi!” We’re noisy buggers, but it’s ’cause we’re bloody proud to be Aussies.