Imagine aiming at an event for four years and – despite pre-race favouritism – falling short.
Then imagine immediately having to compose yourself and give an interview that will be seen by hundreds of thousands of fans across the country.
Sounds difficult, right?
Australia’s swimmers may not have produced the gold medal bounty that was anticipated in Rio but the humility and refreshing honesty they are offering post-race has lessened the blow – significantly.
No one would really be surprised if the swimmers were brushing reporters off – or offering curt responses.
After all, there is no next week.
There is no next month. There is no next year. Redemption is four years away.
The Australian team has done the opposite.
Cameron McEvoy will only look back on these Games as a disappointment.
He was the world champion and heavy favourite to win the 100m freestyle final – but finished seventh.
Instead of wallowing in disillusionment, however, he deflected the attention onto his roommate and the gold medal winner, 18-year-old South Australian Kyle Chalmers.
— 7Olympics (@7olympics) August 11, 2016
“Not the best,” McEvoy told the Seven Network when asked about his performance.
“My preparation was really good all year round and it was probably just the last week or so, I imagine, which is where I have kind of been thrown off.
“Enough about me. Kyle has come in, he’s done half a second PB [personal best] on top of PB at the trials.
“To be just turned 18 and an Olympic champion – that’s bloody wonderful, isn’t it?”
Again, just a day later, a clearly hurting McEvoy – amid a stage-fright explanation from his coach for his 100m blowout – was upfront after missing the cut for the 50m freestyle final.
“I don’t want to stand here being the guy rolling off excuses, it was this or it was that,” he said.
“It is always hard as an athlete to admit that you didn’t deliver mentally, you always like to think you have some level of mental toughness.”
In one of the biggest boilovers of the Games, runaway favourite Cate Campbell finished sixth in the women’s 100m freestyle final.
She was the world record holder and broke the Olympic record – not once, but twice – in a heat and then semi-final on Thursday.
She led at the turn but faded – and still provided an honest and insightful assessment of the shock result just minutes after the race.
— 7Olympics (@7olympics) August 12, 2016
“That [the last 25m] hurt,” Cate Campbell told the Seven Network.
“Not as much as it’s hurting right now. I have still got the 50m [freestyle] to go.
“I have always said that I didn’t need a gold medal to have self-worth. That’s being put to the test at the moment.”
Like Campbell and McEvoy, Mitch Larkin came into Rio as the gold medal favourite in the 200m backstroke final but missed out.
He did win a silver medal – and like Madeline Groves the day before him – preferred to focus on the positives rather than the negatives.
— 7Olympics (@7olympics) August 12, 2016
“To come away with a silver, I am pretty happy,” Larkin said.
“Coming into this week the goal was to get a gold. But to realise I am a silver medallist is pretty amazing.”
The team’s openness and maturity, along with Chalmers’ self-effacing reaction to Olympic glory and fellow gold medal winner Mack Horton’s strong-principled stand are helping wipe away the memories of the Dolphins’ diabolical London campaign.
The 2012 squad’s underwhelming results were coupled with arrogance and juvenile misbehaviour that permeated through a notoriously toxic culture.
Steps have clearly been taken to rectify the team ethos – or maybe this is merely just a more well-adjusted group of young men and women – but it appears the lessons of London have been heeded.
And the 2016 version is taking it a step further, setting the benchmark for media and public relations.
Fans have become accustomed to the token interview responses the stars of our domestic sporting codes spout on a weekly basis, almost to the point of apathy.
The Australian swimmers’ sincerity and candour is consequently as startling as it is admirable.
They’ve bared their souls – and in turn, gold or no gold, they’ve won our hearts.