Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Barbs heat up as Aussie-Brit rivalry boils over

Few rivalries in sport match Australia and Britain and the barbs have started flying in Beijing, where the Brits could beat Australia on the Olympic medal table for the first time in 20 years.

Britain hasn't ended the Olympics ahead of Australia since 1988, but currently has 16 gold to Australia's 11 after claiming four more yesterday.

Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates got the ball rolling when he said Britain's medal haul from the aquatic sports wasn't bad for a nation with "few swimming pools and not very much soap".

It wound up the British press, who have been wallowing in their country inching ahead in the medal count.

On Tuesday The Sun ran a story about its pursuit cyclists winning Britain's 12th gold with a picture of them holding their medals under the headline "G'Day Sport".

"Aussies were flamin' mad last night as Team GB continued to lead them in the Olympic medals race," it trumpeted.

"And despite jibes about Poms only being able to win at 'sitting-down sports', Australian pride really was smarting."

The Sun said Coates and his British counterpart Lord Colin Moynihan have a bet in which the loser will have to pay the medal difference in bottles of champagne.

"Having got our nose in front of the off-colour Wizards from Oz, the battle now is to keep it there," it added.

London's Daily Telegraph can see the finish line.

"The Australians are getting desperate here in Beijing. As Britain eases past them in the medal table, they face the ultimate humiliation: being beaten at the Olympics by the Poms," journalist Jim White wrote.

"As a great sporting nation, the Aussies might yet secure enough bullion to keep the grim Ocker nightmare at bay, but their Olympic chiefs are already conceding defeat."

For a change, the Australian media has been forced onto the back foot in their neverending sporting battle with Britain, which reaches a climax when they play each other in cricket or rugby.

"Poms are winning, call an inquiry," screamed the Sydney Morning Herald.

"Once, not so long ago, Australians were a proud people who walked tall with jutted jaws," wrote Peter Hanlon.

"The Poms were a source of amusement, a fallen imperial master weeping over a dog-eared scrapbook, its tattered images of Steve Redgrave, Seb Coe, Mary Rand and those blokes from Chariots Of Fire fading by the day.

"Now there's not a hutong in Beijing you can disappear down without a smug cockney voice trailing you on the breeze — 'Jeez cobber, what's happened to the Aussies, mate, ay? Bloody crook, fair dinkum!'

"Oh, the shame."

Coates, or Coatsey as he likes to be known, said he enjoyed the rivalry, although "my sense of pride says that we can't let them beat us".

"They are certainly serving it up to me, that little former coxswain who's the president of the British Olympic Association, (Lord) Colin Moynihan," he told reporters.

"He's (saying): 'Coatsey, we're coming at you'. I've been getting that all week and you know that he dropped some soap in when he took some of my beers the other day."

And Coates warned Australians to prepare for more gloating.

"Their new-found cockiness has got some substance to it," he said.

"We're just going to have to go home and reflect on this and deal with it in our own way.

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