Why are Australians so keen to see our best athletes fail?
Immediately after Alex ‘Chumpy’ Pullin’s exit from the snowboard cross competition in Sochi on Tuesday afternoon, Fairfax journalist Phil Lutton tweeted ‘So #Chumpy he couldn’t carve it’, a nod to an old dog food commercial. Lutton’s was not a lone voice.
Admittedly, one shouldn’t draw conclusion about an entire nation based on the negativity on Twitter, but there was enough anti-Chumpy sentiment out there it was clear that a trend was emerging.
— Phil Lutton (@phillutton78) February 18, 2014
There is no doubt Pullin’s standing with Australian sports fans was hurt in the lead-up to his pet event, with reports of a massive funding disparity between him and the rest of the Australian snowboarding contingent.
Throw into the mix Pullin’s ‘swimwear model’ girlfriend, plus his own handsome features, and you have enough to effectively strike him off the ‘battler’ list forever.
And therein lies Australia’s problem – we are so seduced by the idea of the underdog, the battler done good, that we are on the front foot immediately whenever a sports star starts to, as some see it, rise above his station.
Forget footy or cricket. Australia’s national pastime may well be scything down tall poppies on social media.
Greg Norman, one of the tallest poppies we’ve known, described the difference between Australians and Americans thus: “If someone in America bought a sports car, then other Americans would say ‘nice car’. However, if someone in Australia bought a sports car, other Australians would scratch it.”
Chumpy joins a long list of Australian sportspeople who have annoyed large sections of the community just by being good at what they do. Think Norman, Lleyton Hewitt, Ian Thorpe or Bernard Tomic. For a nation that likes its sport, we love to bring its stars down a peg.
It’s difficult to think of Australian athletes who have walked the tightrope of tall poppy/sporting hero successfully. Pat Rafter’s blend of tennis prowess, sportsmanship and everyman nature endeared him almost universally, but he is in the minority.
Winter Olympians, pre-Chumpy, have largely escaped the vitriol, given they are almost always underdogs – think of the warm place Steven Bradbury occupies in the national bosom, a bloke who only won gold because everybody else fell over.
Is this a new thing? Were there Australians barracking against Rod Laver when he ruled world tennis back in the 1960s?
Maybe the sports stars of today just need to wait another 20 years before they are embraced.
Look at the way the image of everyone’s favourite fun-loving tennis uncle John Newcombe – himself just as pugnacious as Hewitt in his prime – has softened with the passage of time.
Whatever it is, the negativity is growing tiresome. Given how hard we have to battle in Winter Olympic competition against countries with history, geography and weather systems on their side, you’d think – at least once every four years – we could all be Pullin in the same direction.