We’re drips for swimming nostalgia

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
February 16, 2011 /

Click here to view original /

Unless they’re shacked up in the manse with a surprisingly age-appropriate Brit or otherwise covering their faces while exiting court, normally I don’t pay much attention to the hijinks of Australia’s athletes. And yet oh so suddenly my attention has been captivated by the promised return of a handful of chlorinated retirees.

I’m not going to question Australia’s preoccupation with sport. I don’t get it but neither do I mind that others do. Live and let cheer, I say.

My interest in the Thorpe-y/Klim-y comebacks is more about how well these news items showcase our preoccupation with – if not fetishisation of – nostalgia. Notably sporting nostalgia.

While I may well walk away from the idiot box every single time the s-word is mentioned, even I know about the doldrums of men’s swimming. And cricket. And the Essendon Football Club.

For those of us more interested in politics, it’s hardly dissimilar to the doldrums encasing the Labor Party in most states and certainly in Canberra.

In sport there’s obviously something irresistible about spectators playing choose-your-own-adventure. Played, generally, with old copies of AFL Records and VHS tapes of Wide World of Sport. So what would happen if. Just what if some of those 1980s cricketing moustaches joined the 2011 team. What if that smooth-talking Benaud dared again don the baggy green. Just how would we fair if Warnie spent less time using his bat and more time with the ball.

Those of us more interested in politics can’t resist the game either. Every election defeat or bad poll and someone will undoubtedly ask whether fate might have turned had another bod been at the helm. Just what if we’d loved Rudd enough? Just what if that room of Conservative oddballs didn’t get sloshed and point to Tony.

Not to mention daring to wonder how things might have turned out if you’d just stuck it out with the ex.

Ahh. The lure of choose-your-own-adventure.

And so, with poor polling and losing cricketers, is it any wonder then that rather than looking forward that we compulsively, coquetteishly, keep looking over our shoulder to the past?

Of course, it makes perfect sense: the talent of yesterday is a known quantity. When it comes to sport we manage a thoroughly mystical suspension of disbelief. We allow ourselves to pretend that no time has passed. Somehow, if we just close our eyes and dream hard enough we can pretend that we’re on that plane with Boony and his 52 tinnies. Pretend that it’s still the ’90s and that Essendon are once again dominant. Close our eyes and remember those hey days when oiled up, clean shaven swimming lads were flogging us everything from hand-signed milk to razor blades.

No, it’s no surprise we keep looking back. No surprise, but certainly a whole lot cringe-worthy.

Springsteen paints the picture perfectly: “I had a friend was a big baseball player / back in high school” and “all he kept talking about was / glory days”.

I won’t dare speculate on the motives of the athletes in question. They’ll be individual, personal, and likely for me, undoubtedly quite boring. I’m far more interested in the media interest. More so in the perceived excitement of the public. In that good number of us daring to not leave the past alone.

While Springsteen laments the sadness of paralysing nostalgia, apparently in Australia we embrace it with great fervour.

Sure, it makes sense that we can only speculate about a talent pool we are familiar with. It’s so much harder to envisage the wonders of tomorrow. Alas, our preoccupation with the past, about last year’s golden children is so depressingly short term. It speaks of sporting stasis, it speaks of sporting stagnation.

Yeah, it’s tempting to keep reflecting on the days we wheelbarrowed home medals a-plenty. It’s tempting to regurgitate the names we are familiar rather than learn new ones. It’s also very tempting for those competing against our resurrected athletes to mock our preoccupation with those salad days.

© Lauren Rosewarne