Peter E Taylor 2012
Grinning medal winners and heartbroken athletes with unfulfilled dreams -
For months before the Games we have been absorbed in their training and selection trials. Now, from small communities to big cities, we are preparing to give them all a ‘welcome home’ they will never forget - whether they won a medal or just made it to the Games and were knocked out in the first round.
As I write this in Australia, ticker-tape parades are being organised, illuminated ‘Freedom of the City’ scrolls embellished and speeches and tributes written - and we'll all be out on the streets, yelling and waving and cheering as they are driven past.
It happens every Games.
But it hasn't always been like this.
Can you imagine what the local press wrote when Australia won its first-ever Olympic swimming title? It was Freddie Lane who accomplished this feat, winning the 220 yards (about 200m) freestyle at the Paris Games of 1900 in 2:25.2. This was an excellent time, for the race was not swum in a beautiful pool with 'anti-wave' ropes, but in the River Seine, with poorly defined lanes.
At the same Games he also won the swimming obstacle race. Lined up alternately in the river were normal boats and flat-bottomed punts. Competitors swam to the first boat, climbed into it, dived off, swam under the nearest punt, up and into the next boat, and so on to the finish.
So, what headline do you think appeared in the country’s major newspaper, the Melbourne Herald, after Freddie's successes? 'Two Gold Medals For Freddie Lane', or 'Freddie Lane, Olympic Super-Star'?
No. No headline. All that was written was a short paragraph when he boarded a ship to come home, with not a single mention of the Olympic Games or his wins. It just said something like 'The Sydney swimmer, Mr F C V Lane, after a successful season in England, is returning to Australia by RMS Ormuz'. That was it!!
The first headline was not a possibility, for no gold or other medals were awarded at those Games. Instead, winners received books, umbrellas or other 'useful' things. Freddie, however, was lucky, and his prizes were much bigger - like, about 70kg bigger.
Though they were not useful, and were difficult to carry, he was pleased to be given two 19th century bronze sculptures from the French Salon de Beax Artes - one of a horse, sculpted by Arthur Jacques de Luc, a contemporary of Rodin, and one of a peasant girl sculpted by
Glaneuse H. Godel and titled 'Barefoot Farm Woman with Rake'. These were very appropriate for Freddie, for he was an art expert with many artist friends. He wrote a book about one of them - Norman Lindsay.
Freddie collected many things - models, stamps, coins and autographs. His enormous stamp collection included many rarities and he swapped spares with King Farouk of Egypt.
Freddie continued swimming to win over 400 trophies. He broke records for every distance from 100 yards to 1 mile and held 7 or more World Records, though only 2 were officially recognised - the 220 yards and, as the first person to break the 1 minute barrier, the 100 yards.
He also excelled in sailing, boxed with the best and was a founder of Mona Vale's Golf and Surf Life Saving Clubs.
Many years later, long after these early Olympians won their strange prizes, the International Olympic Committee arranged for gold, silver and bronze medals to be awarded to them. Fortunately, Freddie, unlike some others, was still alive to receive his. However, he was heartbroken when his home, medals and most of his collections were destroyed by fire in 1968, and he died a year later at the age of 89.
Freddie and I are distantly related, and I'm most grateful to his grand-daughter for checking the accuracy of this account and correcting some errors I had in a previous version.