IN MURKY WATER
Thursday, 26 July 2012
Categories: Olympics - Olympics
Leisel Jones is an unnecessary target
By LORISSE DART, Comment
IF only the amount of public support that Leisel Jones received yesterday was present in 1964 when Olympic great Dawn Fraser was the target of the then-Australian Swimming Union which was hell-bent on punishing the champion for being a harmless rebel.
It was a loud backlash yesterday to the News Ltd and Fairfax-generated stories about Leisel Jones’s weight and whether she was treating her fourth Olympic Games as just a “farewell tour”.
This website also got a whack from a few who took to social media to defend Jones. But more on that later.
The suggestion that Jones may not be giving her all at these Olympics, I think is a bigger insult than being told you’re fat.
And yes, I spent more than half of my life worrying about what I looked like – particularly as a 177cm lightweight rower, with skinny bones, who weighed 56kg and was told by a coach that she still had more to lose. “More what?,” I still ask myself.
The answer to losing “more” back then were laxatives and sweating. Terribly dangerous, awfully cruel.
There were plenty of sports achievements during this time, in my early to mid 20s, and the addictive nature of rowing was very hard to resist. But looking back, it was a horrible period and it definitely contributed to some very challenging personal issues I faced then and later in life.
So I ate as much as a sparrow and I looked like a malnourished greyhound, but if anybody had have accused me of not training or racing hard, I would have been shattered. Make sense of that.
There is no doubt the body image issue and the commitment questions have the potential to be a toxic cocktail.
It’s unclear why the newspapers have raised questions about Jones’s commitment because there seems to be no evidence to suggest she hasn’t put 100 per cent into her preparation. Her training times indicate she must be working hard, even though her times are behind her US opponents.
But what had Jones’s teammates and sections of the public swinging the verbal haymakers left, right and centre, was the story by News Ltd, part of which said:
“Showing motivation comes in all shapes, a relaxed Jones arrived in the Games city ready to become the first Australian swimmer to compete at four Olympics.
“But it was her appearance that had tongues wagging as much as her bid for history.
“As these pictures show, she resembles none of her previous incarnations and appears heavier than at previous meets.”
“Some observers yesterday suggested that Jones, 26, was battling her weight in similar fashion to when she walked away from the sport in 2009 for a 12-month sabbatical.”
It’s provocative stuff and as a result it’s fair for the reader to ask whose tongues were “wagging” and who were the “observers”?
Was it a comment piece from authors Paul Kent and Jim Tucker and therefore their view? It wasn’t tagged as such. It was presented as a news story.
So if it was a news story, then who were the observers? Who owned the tongues?
To attribute such emotive suggestions to the nameless and faceless is just too wishy washy. Kent and Tucker know their story has zero currency when nobody is on the record.
And making Jones’s body a target for criticism is risky business because this young woman has never had a normal swimmer’s shape and her knock-knees are a vital part of her gold medal-winning and world record-breaking breaststroke technique.
Her mum even considered having them operated on when she was young – Australia should be thankful she didn’t. Head swimming coach Leigh Nugent once said: “Physical attributes are an aspect of athletic performance and that structure of (Jones’s) legs certainly helps her. We probably can’t put a price on them.”
This website entered the debate yesterday and tweeted this:
“Cold hard facts: Leisel Jones does not look in peak condition for Olympics. Coach says she's ready to go so we'll soon see.”
News Ltd quoted our tweet in its regularly updated story on Heraldsun.com.au, but we were interpreted by some as being critical of Jones or backing the newspapers claims.
Supersportswomen is not designed to purely promote; we won’t sugar coat our stories. We are working towards becoming a women’s sports news website. The promotion of sportswomen will happen organically – by default, if you like.
What was lost in translation when our tweet hit news feeds, was that we thought Jones did not look in peak condition because she never has, and that’s because she’s never looked like the other swimmers, yet she’s still won eight Olympic medals, three of them gold.
If her coach Michael Bohl says she’s ready to race, then she’s ready. He made no qualms about telling the media that she needs to find some speed before race day – 2sec is a lot – if she is going to be a threat. Jones has got work to do, so she’s obviously not in peak condition. When the time comes her swimming will do the talking.
Based on her times and what her opponents have been clocking, Jones has never been a medal favourite at these Games, but she’s training under the Olympic qualifying time. Nobody could question that she doesn’t deserve to be in London.
Let’s be frank, if you asked me to pick the trifecter for the 100m breaststroke final, I would box-up Americans Breeja Larson and Rebecca Soni, young Aussie Leiston Pickett and include the great Jones as an outside chance for a medal. Those selections are based on times, form, potential and respect.
As retired swimming champ Hayley Lewis said yesterday: “She's obviously coming to the end of her career and your body does change as you get older.
"She probably knows within herself that she doesn't feel quite 100 per cent fit.
"When standing next to one of the younger, slimmer girls she probably doesn't look like she's fighting fit but in saying that she's never had that figure anyway, so I think it's a bit unfair.
"Leisel has never had that tiny straight up and down, very sinewy, lean swimmer's body and she's managed to win countless amounts of Olympic and Commonwealth Games medals."
Lorisse Dart is the founder of supersportswomen.com.au
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