SAMANTHA LANE July 26, 2012
Terming criticism of Leisel Jones's physical condition as ''disgraceful'', Australian team chef de mission Nick Green mounted an impassioned defence of the eight-time Olympic medallist who he says has been unfairly targeted on the eve of her record-breaking fourth Games.
Opening his daily media conference in London yesterday with the strongest, and most impassioned, statement of his tenure, Green said Jones had the full support of the team.
''She's a triple Olympic gold medallist and a winner of eight Olympic medals for this country. I think she deserves a lot more respect than she was given.
''I'm pleased that there's been unanimous support for Leisel Jones by her fellow competitors, by other athletes. I've seen comments from Cathy Freeman, Giaan Rooney, Libby Trickett,'' Green said.
''I think it's just unfair that she has been targeted this way on the eve of what, for her, is an historic competition. It's her fourth Olympic Games. She is the only female ever in swimming to go to four Olympic Games.''
In an episode that could influence Green's difficult task of selecting a flag bearer to lead the Australian team in the opening ceremony on Saturday night - he has consistently raised Jones among the candidates - the team boss said the 26-year-old swimmer was a model Olympian who deserved the utmost respect.
Asked if there were ever reasonable grounds to criticise the physique of top athletes, Green responded: ''I think you've got to respect that athletes prepare for four years for this occasion. And athletes come in different shapes and sizes.
''It's your performance, and your preparation leading into the performance, which is absolutely paramount.
''Athletes don't come to an Olympic Games on a holiday. They just don't. And Leisel is a superb athlete, a triple Olympic gold medallist and she's won eight medals for this country over four Olympic Games. She knows what she is doing, and she is preparing in the right way. Everyone in the team supports her 100 per cent.''
Green even implored the Australian media contingent to get behind the national team.
''You know what the athletes are going through. You know their preparation. You want them to succeed as much as we do, as a member of the Australian public, and we will support our athletes to do that,'' he said.
''The athletes, to be at this level of competition, need to eliminate any distractions from their daily preparation. They need to solely focus on the task ahead, and any small distraction could mean the difference between a gold and silver medal. So allow the athletes to get on and do what they need to do.''
Two-time Olympic gold medallist Kieren Perkins was staunch in his defence of Jones's appearance and work ethic, saying the swimmer had always ''had her own shape'', and looked as she had always looked to him. ''It's worked before, why wouldn't it work today?'' Perkins asked.
''I have absolutely no doubt that we spend far too much time worrying about the aesthetics of bodies without appreciating the unique physical traits that allow someone to do the extraordinary things that they do.
''I've seen Liesel a few times and it didn't occur to me that there was any problem. Maybe some other nations who don't have the history or standing that we do might get away with rubbish like that, but mate, you're an Australian and you're at the Olympic Games you're here to do a job and you do it well. I'm sure Liesel will give it everything and do well.''
Australian swimming head coach Leigh Nugent said he had spoken with Jones about the stories and she ''seemed fine''.
''I had a brief chat with her and she seemed fine. Before the swimming starts we have discussions with our athletes and our coaches about the stories that do get published prior to the competition,'' he said.
''Before our trials it was all about Thorpie [Ian Thorpe] and what he was going to do and not going to do and how much money we were supposed to have spent on him and then when the swimming started … bang, it was gone. We know that's the routine and the rhythm of things at the competition and really if you get up in the morning and read all the stories, you are crazy.''