Published Tuesday 31 July 2012

Lauren Boyle was remarkably grounded and mature when she spoke to journalists after swimming in the 400m freestyle final yesterday. But one thing she said jarred with me.
Boyle, 24, qualified for the final fourth by swimming 4min 03.63s in her heat. It was the sort of performance that set the New Zealand camp buzzing with “what ifs” as they waited for the final because she had smashed her own New Zealand record by more than two seconds.
As it turned out, Boyle could not replicate the performances in the final and finished last, more than two seconds slower than she’d managed in the heat.
Her mind, she said, had been “whirring” all afternoon as she reflected on her sensational record swim and contemplated her forthcoming final.
“Maybe I embarrassed New Zealand by coming last,” she said.
She then went on to explain, almost apologetically, that she had a lot to learn about swimming in major finals, but that she had loved the experience. She said she was encouraged to continue her swimming career.
The statement that jolted me was her suggestion that she might have embarrassed New Zealand.
There’s no shame in finishing last in an Olympic final. Very few competitive swimmers ever reach that exalted level, and New Zealanders were rightly proud of Boyle, even if she was not able to move up another level and get among the medals.
It’s sad that an athlete, on the day she records the performance of her career, would be worried about embarrassing her country.
Boyle’s comment reminded me of Sam Warriner’s reaction after she’d completed the triathlon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Warriner, formerly of England, was distressed by her finishing placing of 16th and spoke briefly to the media, basically apologising to New Zealand before she burst into tears and departed.
The 2008 triathlon was held on a blazingly hot day and Warriner, while not competing up to the form that had won her Commonwealth Games silver and world championship bronze medals, still turned in a plucky showing.
No-one would have dared accuse the 37-year-old of lack of effort and it was shocking that she felt she’d let down her adopted country.
The reactions of Warriner in 2008 and Boyle this week were revealing. They indicate how seriously some of the athletes treat the honour of representing their country.
From my viewpoint, I salute them.
New Zealand is being represented by 184 athletes at the London Olympics. None of them need apologise if they do not win medals or finish as highly-placed as they’d have hoped.
All New Zealanders can ask is that they train hard and do everything they can to perform to the best of their ability.
When I get cynical is on the rare occasions when New Zealand sportsmen and women cheat, perhaps through drug-taking, turn up under-prepared or don’t try hard during their competition.
Such instances are rare, though when you see someone like that you don’t soon forget it.
As for the athletes in London – Boyle and her 183 team-mates – from the small amount I’ve seen, and from watching them go about their preparations, New Zealanders should be proud of them no matter where they finish.