The pros and cons of USA’s strength

Playing the US at the Olympics is distorted sport. You start with a known result and backfill with a game. This was Australia’s experience on Wednesday night, again.
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The game was cute enough in its own right. The Boomers began the first half brightly, and the second half brilliantly, but inexorably were overwhelmed. LeBron James, no introduction needed, had a triple double, which is a lot of everything. The first in Olympic history. In the second half, geriatric Kobe Bryant suddenly returned to the fountain of youth, draining two strings of three consecutive three-pointers, exaggerating the margin, but only a little. This is not to diminish Australia’s effort, nor coach Brett Brown’s initiative. Simply, this is how it is for everyone at the Olympics.

US coach Mike Krzyzewski praised Australia as ”athletic, quick and well coached”. Everybody praised Patty Mills. ”Every time I see him, he gets better and better,” said Bryant (curious, because mostly when he looks he is sitting on the San Antonio bench). These niceties and platitudes are also part of the Olympic basketball ritual. Rueful honesty emerges between the lines. When asked what else Australia might have done, Joe Ingles said: ”Seen their team?”

We have, over and over. Team USA’s all-time Olympic record is now 128-5. Since NBA players were admitted in 1992, the American men have lost only three games, all by the slovenly team in Athens in 2004.

This team is being compared to the original Dream Team from 1992, led by Michael Jordan. It features Bryant, said by Krzyzewski to be in the top 10 all-time greats, ”maybe top five”, and James, said by American basketball writer and nut Bill Simmons to be already in the top 20 ATGs, and bound for No.2.

That’s not all. When the US went on their last-quarter rampage last night their starting five were on the bench. And let’s not mention the players who couldn’t be here because of injury. Here are four warps into which Olympic basketball falls.

1. The Olympics should be for sports for whom this is the pinnacle. It is for everyone except the team that no one can beat.

2. The US team’s performance falls into that modern no-man’s land between competitive sport and entertainment. The US team is a marvel to watch. You could sum it up this way: the other teams in the tournament have big blokes and athletic blokes. The US have big, athletic blokes. And heavily tattooed. Other athletes are in awe. EVERYONE is in awe. At the US team’s introductory press conference, there were at least 2000 ”reporters”.

3. In an alternative and disconnected universe in the US, aficionados analyse this team as if it is some sort of cut-throat competition, writing long dissertations fretting, for instance, about its lack of size. ”The best player in 20 years is playing with our most talented roster in 20 years,” said Simmons, ”and incredibly, I’m worried that we might blow the gold medal because we’re too small.”

4. Praise is lavished on the US players for everyday civilities, such as sometimes travelling on public transport, and talking to people. Partly, this is reflexive. Early iterations of the Dream Team were simply obnoxious. As recently as Athens, they was sniffy. Since, they have made an effort, dropping the Dream Team appellation and presenting a humbler face. Comparatively, they are team of charmers. But they still do not stay in the athletes’ village, preferring to be sequestered in a hotel.

The bind for basketball at the Olympics is that it cannot do without the US – indeed would look ridiculous without US representation – but cannot have an authentic competition with the US and its institutionalised invincibility. Australia’s biggest mistake in these Games, as in Beijing, was to be careless enough to catch the US in a crossover; otherwise the Boomers fancied themselves for a medal. ”I feel we could compete with all of them here,” coach Brett Brown said. ”The US is something different.”

Moves are afoot to scrap the US team in its current form and send a college all-star team or an under-23 team like the football sides. James, for one, opposes it. ”Because I’m 27.”

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From hell in a wheelchair to golden glory for sailor

Winners … Iain Jensen and Nathan Outteridge, right.FOR Nathan Outteridge, winning an Olympic gold medal was not the greatest moment of his life. Nor was letting one slip through his fingers the worst.
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In the grand scheme of things, Outteridge learnt long ago that sailing was not the be-all and end-all.

It is his passion – and his victory with Iain Jensen in the 49ers skiff category at the Olympics on Wednesday was a special moment for the two Wangi Wangi yachtsmen who grew up on the shores of Lake Macquarie and learnt their craft as toddlers.

Likewise, when Outteridge and his then partner, Ben Austin, inexplicably capsized a few hundred metres from victory at Beijing four years ago, he was gutted and spent countless hours agonising over the most costly mistake of his career. But Outteridge knew he had been through worse.

In January 2005, while towing a trailer-load of boats to Melbourne for a race, the 19-year-old drifted off to sleep behind the wheel and ploughed into a tree near Albury. He was flown to Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney with a broken back. There was concern he would never walk again, let alone sail.

After a nine-hour operation to fuse vertebrae, he spent three weeks on his back, motionless. For three months a plastic body brace immobilised him from hip to shoulder. Eventually, he took the first tentative steps of his recovery.

Nine months later he was back on the water, on a skiff he named Spineless. Little wonder the 26-year-old takes a philosophical view of his sporting highs and lows.

As he said on Wednesday after emerging triumphant from the water at Weymouth, he was grateful not to be confined to a wheelchair for life. ”After that,” he said, ”anything else is a bonus.”

Such an attitude explains why Outteridge was so well equipped to deal with the disappointment in Qingdao. Instead he vowed never to allow himself to be in such a position again. It was not enough to merely be the best. He had to be flawless.

”Sometimes you have to reflect on the bad things in your life as well as the good things,” he said. ”What happened [in Beijing] has helped me get to where I am today.”

Four years on, Outteridge and Jensen arrived in England as unbackable gold-medal favourites. They had won three consecutive world titles. They knew they were faster than anybody else, and their opposition knew it, too.

But Outteridge understood he could take nothing for granted. But there were no nerves. This time he slept soundly on the eve of the 16th and final race.

Two days before, he and Jensen racked up an unassailable lead. Barring a sanction for ”not making an effort”, which would have resulted in their being relegated to 10th overall, their gold medals were in the post.

There was no sense of anti-climax for Outteridge. Having waited four years to make amends, he was happy to collect the ultimate prize whenever and however it was delivered. Not only because he and Jensen deserved it, but because it represented closure.

”I’ve spent the last four years trying to move on … we can stand here and say we did everything possible to win, and the results prove it,” he said.

Outteridge’s only concerns before the final race were to put on a fitting show – for his many supporters on the shores at Weymouth and at home in the Wangi RSL – and not to impede those chasing the bronze medal, the silver having already been secured by New Zealand. He and Jensen finished fourth and were greeted by jubilant teammates and staff members, who hoisted them high and presented them with lit flares.

”Words just can’t describe how it feels when you realise it’s all going to happen,” Jensen said. ”It’s been two days since we knew we were going to win, and I don’t think it’s really sunk in.”

Outteridge said it was ”really cool to do a race where it didn’t matter where we finished, so we could just enjoy it”. It is hard to imagine that even the rivals he has beaten so routinely would begrudge him that luxury.

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Hooker’s demons don’t lie among his opponents

STEVE HOOKER’S reunion with his pole vault buddies may well provide the springboard for the reigning world champion to give a yelp in today’s finals. It’s what friends are for.
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Not often in Olympic sports do competitors cite their opponents as major contributors to their campaigns. More often than not, it’s steely looks and mind games that at times border on the bizarre.

The pole vaulting fraternity breaks these rules. During Wednesday’s qualifications, Hooker regularly chatted and laughed with the men he was competing against. He high-fived Raphael Holzdeppe when the German cleared 5.65 metres in the pit adjacent to his and clapped when his friend Brad Walker of the United States soared above 5.60m.

He led deputations to officials to debate why the numbers of vaulters in the finals should be boosted from 12 to 14 when a lot of leapers were bunched on 5.50m, the height Hooker cleared in his one and only jump.

”When they have got the rule of 12 people going through and there’s a large group of guys who have the same result at the back of that pool, then a lot of people can go through,” Hooker said. ”It just worked out that way that a lot of people in our pit jumped 50 with no misses. We decided if we group together we all can go through.”

Hooker said all this goodwill – and London’s infamous weather – can give him the ultimate lift as he defends the title won so heroically in Beijing.

Hooker has dealt with his demons over the past year, working with coach Alex Parnov to overcome the yips that threatened his career. His form leading into the Games wasn’t flash as he no-heighted in three events and managed only relatively modest clearances in others.

In years gone by, heights such as 5.20m and 5.42m were a walk in the park to Hooker but he regarded them as building blocks for London. Now he has mates to help him.

”I am at home out there. We had a fantastic time,” Hooker said of the qualification. ”I was on a fantastic pool. I don’t normally get on the party pool but today I was. Most of my mates were on that pool. It creates a good environment for good results. And I think it tells by the large number of people getting through.”

Hooker, who was upbeat through his dark days, is realistic about his chances today against men such as Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie, Germans Bjorn Otto and Malte Mohr, and Walker, who have all cleared more than 5.90m this season compared with his best of 5.72m.

”I know I have more in me than my season’s best,” Hooker said. ”But I’ll be enjoying the atmosphere out there, soaking it up and enjoying being out there … and putting on a good show for everyone.”

With enemies like these who needs friends.

Meanwhile, Allyson Felix – the two-time 200m world champion and two-time Olympic silver medallist in the same event – has finally claimed the gold that eluded her in Beijing and Athens.

The American sprinter beat a red-hot field to win ahead of Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and US teammate Carmelita Jeter in a time of 21.88 seconds. ”I remember coming over here [to journalists] in tears in Beijing and gosh [it’s] just the complete opposite tonight and for it all to come together is just extremely special,” the 26-year-old said. ”It felt good, I just said, ‘Thank you Lord’, relief, joy, a flood of emotions, I don’t think it’s all set in yet.”

Felix said her main aim was to be ”aggressive” in the final. ”It’s the Olympics, anything can happen, [Felix’s coach Bobby Kersee] told me, ‘Just go out and get it’. I knew if I ran my race it would all come together. I think [Beijing] was all for a reason, I think it kept me motivated and it made this moment just very special. It was a big weight [off her shoulders], there’s definitely always pressure, when you’re the favourite. It’s there, you just want to execute it.”

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Candid camera: tape police said had been damaged shows officers assaulting prisoner

THREE police officers accused of covering up the violent bashing of a man arrested on the NSW north coast are at work on restricted duties, as the force’s corruption watchdog begins a formal investigation into the incident.
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Magistrate David Heilpern yesterday released the damning security footage of the attack, saying it clearly showed officers had lied about being assaulted by Aboriginal man Corey Barker.

Officers had previously told the court that the footage was unavailable as it was damaged – only for the court to ultimately ”repair” it and play it to the hearing.

The trio were yesterday spared a referral to the Supreme Court for lying under oath, with Mr Heilpern satisfied the Police Integrity Commission would investigate the matter fully.

Earlier this year, Mr Heilpern heard the case of Mr Barker, who was accused of throwing a plastic bottle at police, and then resisting arrest, during an altercation on January 14 last year.

Officers claimed when Mr Barker was taken to the local police station, he yelled and was disruptive in the dock, prompting them to move him to the rear cells.

The officers said that when they tried to move the 22-year-old, he allegedly assaulted a senior constable, David Hill, punching him in the face and flailing his arms around in a bid to break free.

Senior Constable Hill said video tapes of the incident were damaged and could not be used.

However, when the damaged tapes were obtained by the police prosecutor and repaired during Mr Barker’s assault hearing, they showed that no assault had taken place.

The video shows another police officer, Senior Constable Ryan Eckersley, kicking Mr Barker in the head area while he was on the ground, and a third officer, Lee Walmsley, kneeing him in the side.

In a judgment handed down last month, Mr Heilpern said: ”It was crystal clear that the defendant at no time punched Senior Constable Hill in the nose as described.”

He found the officers Hill and Walmsley had colluded before giving evidence to the court, and that the latter had then lied under oath in an effort to cover it up.

Mr Heilpern said the incident had ”debased the administration of justice”.

”It is hard to imagine a clearer example of bad faith than initiating proceedings on the basis of an allegation of an assault that simply did not occur,” the magistrate said.

He said the damage to the CCTV footage was ”suspicious”.

”It beggars belief that the video just happened to be unavailable for that incident. The problem is not recorded in the [police] register, despite Senior Constable Hill saying that it was.”

The magistrate found that, even when shown the footage, the officer ”refused to accept that what was depicted was what had occurred”.

”It was as though there were two parallel universes in court: the imaginary one of Senior Constable Hill and the real one that the rest of us – including the prosecutor – could see,” the magistrate said.

Senior Constable Eckersley continued to claim he had not kicked Mr Barker in the head.

Mr Barker was left handcuffed for more than an hour.

The case was thrown out in February, and in early July Mr Heilpern ordered police to pay $30,000 to cover Mr Barker’s legal costs.

A spokeswoman for the Police Integrity Commission told the Herald: ”The commission is giving the complaint serious consideration.”

The NSW Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, declined to comment on the footage or the status of the officers involved.

with the Northern Star and Paul Bibby

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Audit calls for cuts to public sector blowout

NSW at a turning point … Premier Barry O’Farrell (left) and former Treasury official Kerry Schott (right).MORE outsourcing of government services, an investigation of teacher sick leave and a crackdown on subsidies and concessions are expected following a landmark audit of the NSW public sector.
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The audit, led by the former Treasury official Kerry Schott, declares that NSW is at a turning point due to financial management that is ”confusing and lacking in transparency” and in which costs have been allowed to outpace revenue.

It makes 132 reform recommendations to the government across agencies, including health, education, transport and water and power utilities.

While many of the reforms are supported or already being pursued by the government, some of the more contentious proposals have been described as ”not current policy”.

These include increasing the number of unattended train stations, raising fares, introducing driver-only trains and examining the sale of the Snowy Hydro. The government has not completely ruled them out.

Releasing the report yesterday, the Premier, Barry O’Farrell, signalled that the government planned to rely heavily on the outsourcing of government services to the private sector.

”Where there is a better way of delivering a government service or program, which maintains or exceeds appropriate standards, delivers results and defends public value, I believe government is morally and economically obliged to consider it,” he said.

This is supported by the audit, which recommends increased outsourcing where the private sector and non-government organisations can deliver ”better services at lower cost and with greater innovation”.

In education, the audit finds ”ample evidence of poor management of sick leave and long-service leave entitlements”.

It suggests principals investigate sick leave in their schools ”to determine whether some individuals may be abusing their entitlement”.

It says principals should be given greater incentives to address the issue ”such as being able to keep at least some of the savings”.

The government supports the sick leave proposals and while changes to leave entitlements are ”not current policy”, it says ”arrangements will be reviewed”.

The audit raises the issue of $6.8 billion worth of ”concessions”. It highlights the exemption accorded pensioners from paying car registration, which costs $200 million a year in forgone annual revenue.

The Treasurer, Mike Baird, said due to the difficult budget position, concessions were something the government would ”have to look at very closely”.

The report delivers a harsh assessment of the electricity businesses, saying they are ”inefficient in comparison to others” and that this has contributed to prices rising more quickly in NSW than in other states.

The audit says there is a strong case for privatising the state’s electricity distribution businesses – or ”poles and wires” – which would reap about $30 billion. But the government reiterated its promise not to sell them without an electoral mandate.

The audit challenges the widely held view that NSW has been under-investing in infrastructure for years but does question whether capital spending has always been well targeted.

It presses the government to return the budget to surplus after two consecutive deficits. It calls for consistent surpluses of $500 million to $900 million to fund “general government and non-commercial infrastructure” and help decrease net debt.

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