April 28, 2015 / 2:03 AM / 5 years ago

Australia backs away from top-five medals goal at Rio

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian sport has moved to dampen expectations of a big medal haul at the Rio Olympics by admitting that the goal to finish in the top-five on the table was more “aspirational” than likely.

Australia slumped to 10th in the medal standings at the 2012 London Games, the country’s worst Olympic haul in 20 years, sparking criticism back home of under-performing athletes and wasted taxpayer money.

In the wake of London, the nation’s top sports mandarins set a renewed goal to get Australia back into the top five as part of the 10-year “Winning Edge” manifesto.

The last time Australia broke into the top five was the fourth-place finish at Athens in 2004.

“Sports Tally”, an annual ‘health check’ published by the government-backed Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), said Australia could hope to improve on London but still had work to do.

“From an Olympic perspective, Australia has made good progress throughout 2014 and remains on track to improve the overall position from London,” AIS director Matt Favier said in a summary of the report.

“The targets announced under ‘Winning Edge’ were ambitious, and the plan, bold.

“While top five in Rio 2016 remains our goal we recognize, three years into the implementation of ‘Winning Edge’, this target is aspirational especially considering the high caliber of rival nations.

“That notwithstanding, we remain extremely committed and are working hard towards achieving a top-five finish at Rio 2016.”

The report suggested last year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow had provided something of a reality check, with the country knocked off top spot by England for the first time since 1986.

Having long rejoiced in out-shining Britain at the Olympics, Australia has felt the boot on the other foot in recent years, being topped by their former colonial masters at the 2008 Games in Beijing and thrashed at London.

The AIS report suggested there might be little hope of turning the tables against a resurgent Team GB at Rio.

“Australia’s traditional rivals, Great Britain, are expected to benefit from the ‘bounce’ of the London Games in 2012,” Favier added. “Some of this was evidenced in Glasgow at the Commonwealth Games.”

The report re-affirmed Australia’s traditional strengths in sailing, swimming, cycling and rowing would be its greatest hope of success but also identified golf and tennis as highly prospective sports.

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by John O'Brien

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