Australian Olympian attacked by media for not being ‘fit’ enough

Published On July 26, 2012 | By Arielle Aronson

For the next two weeks, viewers around the world will watch as some of the most fit athletes from across the globe compete in the Summer Olympics. Apparently for some countries, however, an Olympic-worthy body may not be good enough.

An Australian newspaper found itself as the target of heavy criticism after it published an article questioning the fitness level of swimmer and eight-time Olympic medalist Leisel Jones. This summer, the 26-year-old will swim in her fourth Olympics, marking the first time an Australian swimmer has ever competed in four separate Olympics.

But the accomplishment was not enough for Melbourne’s Herald Sun, which ran an article accompanied by photos claiming Jones did not fit into her swimsuit as well as she did four years ago when she won gold in the 100-meter breaststroke. The paper also reportedly posted a poll on its website asking readers if they thought Jones was fit enough to compete. The poll and original article are no longer on the Herald Sun’s website.

The article was revised to include comments from other Australian Olympians defending Jones, but still ran a paragraph questioning Jones’ weight.

“But it was [Jones’s] appearance that had tongues wagging as much as her bid for history. As these pictures show, she resembles none of her previous incarnations and appears heavier than at previous meets,” the article said.

Australian Olympic team chief Nick Green was critical of the newspaper’s decision to criticize Jones’s weight in its pages.

“I think she deserves a lot more respect than she was given,”Green said at a Thursday press conference. “I think they are disgraceful to be honest… extremely unfair…Athletes come in different shapes and sizes.”

Three-time Australian Olympic medalist and retired swimmer Alice Tait also chimed in on the Jones debate, tweeting, “The questioning over Leisel Jones fitness due to an unflattering photo is exactly what many girls have body image issues! Make me so angry!

“Leisel is a beautiful girl at her 4th Olympic games, she shouldnt have to deal with this nonsense so close to competing.”

Not all Australians defended Jones. Tory Maguire, a writer for the Australian website, The Punch, suggested that the controversy was not a matter of attacking someone for her body image. Instead, Maguire suggested that because Jones is an Olympian, her body figure should be open for public debate.

“Invoking the “body image” debate in this case is a bit of a stretch,” Maguire wrote. “Jones has not been papped on a beach while on holidays looking a bit comfortable around the middle. She has been selected to represent Australia at the absolute peak of competition. … Leisel Jones is a champion. Making her fourth Olympics is a spectacular achievement. She is a role model. But we’re not blind. Discussion of her condition is legitimate, not an attack on the sisterhood.”

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About The Author

Arielle Aronson is a sports writer and recent graduate from Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Print Journalism Magna Cum Laude. Arielle has a passion for sports cultivated from growing up with two older brothers. She also enjoys playing the piano, reading and traveling.