Jiggling Jenneke’s truth bombs
MUCH like our swimmers were after an underwhelming 2012 Olympics in London, Michelle Jenneke became Australia's favourite punching bag following the Rio Games in 2016.
She finished a disappointing sixth in her opening heat of the 100m hurdles and her campaign was over seconds after it began. Then came the backlash.
Australian track and field coach Craig Hilliard accused Jenneke of arriving in Rio out of shape and questioned whether distractions away from the track contributed to her lacklustre showing.
"She was certainly one of the athletes that underperformed here, it would be easy to suggest that (distractions) was possibly a scenario," Hilliard said.
"It's something that I need to discuss with her and go through her program as she certainly didn't arrive here in the shape she should have arrived in."
There was plenty of outside noise too as the public debated why someone who - rightly or wrongly - Australia had built up as one of its golden athletes could pull out what she called "one of the worst races I've ever run" on the biggest stage of all.
But there was much her critics didn't know. For starters, Jenneke was troubled by leg pain leading into the Games and she wasn't allowed to warm up before her heat.
"A lot of it (criticism) was misplaced. I know that I came into Rio as well prepared as I could have been and there were some unfortunate circumstances that didn't go my way," Jenneke told news.com.au.
"I was definitely not as disappointed with my Rio performance as everyone else seemed to be so that hasn't really affected me at all.
"I knew what had gone on in my situation better than the rest of the world did and everyone who knew me quite well understood what actually happened."
It's that lack of understanding from those outside her inner sanctum, and the athletics world in general, that frustrates Jenneke.
Many called for the woman who became a household name because of her pre-race routine that saw her dubbed "Jiggling Jenneke" to ditch everything and focus solely on athletics.
They wanted her to put sponsorship commitments and the like on the backburner. A criticism that carried weight particularly considering Jenneke's face was plastered across billboards in Rio as the face of Coca-Cola.
But those pleas came from a place of ignorance.
"I really didn't change any of that. I really didn't need to," Jenneke said. "It gets talked up a lot more, the stuff that I apparently do than what I actually do.
"The stuff I do outside of athletics isn't actually that much. I don't do that much media or publicity or things like that. I'd say I actually do a fair amount less than some other athletes but it just so happens that when I do stuff it gets a lot more exposure.
"I didn't really have to take a step back from that, I wasn't doing too much in the first place anyway."
And so begs the question: Does Australia expect too much of its athletes?
Seeing local hopes strut their stuff at the Olympics leads plenty to believe sport is the be-all and end-all in athletes' lives and they should spend every minute of every day reaching for greatness.
But as Jenneke - who's studying mechatronic engineering at university - knows, that simply isn't possible.
"I think they definitely do (expect too much of Australian athletes)," Jenneke said.
"One of the issues is that if you're good at sport and representing your country, a lot of people see it as a job. They don't understand this is a job that doesn't pay.
"In athletics, pretty much all the athletes aren't really getting paid anything for what they do. We put in a lot of hard work because we love it and it takes up a lot of our time and a lot of our energy but it's not (our only activity).
"We're either having to be at uni or have a job. There's not many athletes who can support themselves just based on athletics."
Athletics Australia cut Jenneke's funding after Rio and it's remained that way, even as the internet sensation prepares to compete in the upcoming Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
She believes average punters make assumptions about athletes without knowing what's going on behind the scenes and wishes that would change, but she's not holding out hope.
"We're held up to a level where they (the public) think we should be professional athletes but they're not actually paying us like we can be so it's very hard to reach the level that everyone thinks we should be at," Jenneke said.
"I don't think people really understand the way the whole system works. It was made a big deal after Rio that I had my funding cut. What a lot of people don't understand is that funding was $8000 a year.
"A lot of people say, 'She's wasted all our taxpayer money.' It's not really that much money that goes into each of these individual athletes.
"A lot of the media spurred that on and throw out these comments without actually giving the background knowledge of what's going on behind that and even the politics of how those sorts of things work. In an ideal world it would be great to give people the information so they can know what it's like but I'm a realist and I don't see that happening."
Jenneke will be hoping to win over the doubters at next month's Commonwealth Games.
Having booked her spot in the team with a second placed finish behind Sally Pearson at the national titles in February, Jenneke maintains she won't be using any of the criticism that's come her way as added motivation to perform.
She says she's in good shape heading into the competition but hasn't set any specific goals about times or results. Instead, she just wants "to go out there and do the best I can, try and give the home crowd something to cheer for".
And she'll be doing it all as an ambassador for Blistex, the official lip balm supplier of the Games.
"As an Australian we're out in the sun so much. I know for training I'm always out in the sun so to have that lip protection is important because your lips get burnt like the rest of you so I've been really happy to be a partner with them," she said.