It has taken a 21-year-old woman from the Gold Coast, a freckle-faced elfin who weighs not much more than the hurdles she races over, to expose the stupidity of Athletics Australia’s decision to ban its athletes from marching in the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony.

Sally McLellan, one of Australia’s brightest track and field prospects, said she had been looking forward to reveling in the full Olympic experience in Beijing, including marching into the main stadium on August 8 with other athletes from around the world.

But those plans had been stopped in their tracks by Athletics Australia’s insistence that all athletes attend a training camp in Hong Kong that week. AA, and the Australian Olympic Committee, also have fears about the air quality in Beijing, and want athletes to spend as little time in the city as possible.

So much for Baron de Coubertin and his well-worn maxim: it’s not the winning that counts, but the taking part. So much for the Olympic spirit and the fraternity of nations competing under the one Olympic flag. So much for this quadrennial sporting extravaganza being special, and not treated like some second-rate IAAF meet in Stockholm or Monte Carlo.

In trying to reverse a series of laughably bad track-and-field results at recent Games, AA has come up with a plan so cockeyed that it leaves itself open to more derision.

Athletics Australia head coach Max Binnington told News Ltd yesterday:  “We would need to be convinced by Sally or any squad member why we should change our position, considering we have a crucial training camp in Hong Kong.

“If we allow athletes to leave the training camp, it will taken them out of vital preparation.’’

Max, you’ve had four years to get organized for this. The dates have been in the diary since 2002. The athletes have spent four years training for it. What the heck are they going to learn in the last few days before they race?

The IOC’s Athletes Commission, which include track and field legends, Sergey Bubka, Frank Fredericks and Hicham El Guerrouj, and swimming great Alexander Popov, recently issued a statement aimed at countries who were threatening to boycott the Games opening.

It said, in part: “We would like to stress that for each of us individually, parading for our country at the Opening Ceremony was a key moment of pride, the memories of which we remember fondly today; athletes who have this opportunity ahead of them will doubtless recognise how special this moment will be for them.’’

This is exactly why McLellan is miffed at being denied the chance to march. It would have been a career highlight.

Back on the Gold Coast, she is still scratching her head at AA’s decision, and trying to make sense of their reasons. “People are too negative about these things … they get too stressed about them,’’ McLellan told News Ltd. “Unfortunately, in my first Olympics, I won’t be walking in the opening ceremony … You don’t get a choice about it. But I would loved to have gone.”

“You stay in the hotel afterwards. It is not as if you have to stay in the air the whole time. It would have been fine.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey