CALLING criticism of Leisel Jones’s conditioning ”disgraceful”, the Olympic team’s chef de mission, Nick Green, mounted an impassioned defence of the eight-time Games medallist whom he said has been unfairly targeted on the eve of her record-breaking fourth Olympics.
Opening his daily media conference in London yesterday morning with the 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.
”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 task of selecting a flag bearer for the opening ceremony tomorrow 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 … 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.
”The athletes, to be at this level of competition, need to eliminate any distractions from their daily preparation … So allow the athletes to get on and do what they need to do.”
Two-time Olympic gold medallist Kieren Perkins staunchly defended Jones’s appearance. ”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,” he said.