Debut finally arrives for swimming's bad boy
An ugly Olympic journey spanning close to five years should reach its conclusion in London tomorrow. Nick D'Arcy was 20 when he was first selected in the Australian Olympic swimming team. Today, at the age of 25, he will finally make his debut.
Whatever the result, he doubts he will attempt to make another Olympic team so the anguished divisions and double standards which have accompanied D'Arcy every step of the way to London should start to fade once the men's 200 metres butterfly final has been swum on Tuesday night.
But not the collateral damage. It has been a relentless path towards his first Olympic heat since the night in early 2008 which began with D'Arcy celebrating his Olympic selection and ended when another swimmer had his face smashed in.
The Olympic movement found ways to close him out but then ran out of legitimate reasons. Instead he will be removed from the village by Saturday on the spurious basis of a minor social network misdemeanour.
Should D'Arcy repeat his effort of 2011, when he defeated Michael Phelps in California for a Grand Prix gold, or win a medal of any colour, he will continue to challenge the values of his countrymen. Australians will be expected to cheer for the swimmer all over again in the Olympic teams' welcome home parades across the country.
"Yes he is part of our team," said Nick Green yesterday. "And he will be invited to join our motorcades."
The AOC appears to have softened its stand on D'Arcy, although Green denied that this had anything to do with the swimmer's good behaviour since joining his team-mates at their training camp in Manchester and now at the village in London.
Having said he and his team-mate Kenrick Monk would be forced to leave the Olympics immediately after their events were completed, the pair have in fact been booked to fly home on July 4 - the last day of the swimming meet and five days after the 200 metre butterfly final.
There will be no late reprieve for D'Arcy whatever his result in the Olympic pool.
"That's been done," said Green, "it won't be changing." But for a number of senior officials in the village, D'Arcy cannot leave soon enough. He has embarrassed Green, who has been accused of over-reacting - or at least over-compensating - in hastily punishing the apparently unrepentant Queenslander with the early expulsion orders after the relatively harmless American gunshop pose in June with Kenrick Monk.
And if he has divided Australia's sporting loyalties, there is a suggestion he has also divided the swimming team. In general, the younger members of the squad like him and are attracted by his charisma while the older swimmers who know and like his victim, Simon Cowley, do not and are not.
The view from senior members at the Olympics is that sending D'Arcy home is a move for risk mitigation. An insurance against him turning up in a London pub after the swimming has finished and getting in a fight.
AOC president John Coates banned D'Arcy from competing in Beijing after he was found guilty of assaulting Cowley in a bar. D'Arcy received a suspended prison sentence and was banned by his own sport from competing in the world championships the following year.
He was injured and bombed out in the Commonwealth Games in Dehli but surprised his own sport with his rapid comeback to top form since then.
After dealing with the bureaucratic thicket of potential appeals and winning the support of his board in stripping D'Arcy of his Beijing place, Coates still believes that the swimmer has "polarised the nation" like no other sportsperson.
The AOC could have taken a stand on D'Arcy in banning him from the privilege of representing his country at Olympic level for life, but it chose instead to give him the green light.
When he declared himself bankrupt to avoid paying $180,000 in civil damages to his victim, the AOC, having extracted from him all manner of written promises to behave, tried but claimed it could find no legal grounds to ban him again.
Explaining that he was determined to consider every case on its merits, Green attempted to explain why John Steffenson will remain in the village until the conclusion, despite calling his athletics boss a liar and threatening to quit his relay team in protest against a younger runner winning a late selection with a faster 2012 time than him.
"We spent a long time understanding (D'Arcy's) position," said Green, "the four years, the bankruptcy, the photographs. Ultimately the decision was mine but it was a decision made on historic elements of our Olympic team."
Green was referring to a preferred culture of behaviour and standards set by Herb Elliott and Bettey Cuthbert and Ian Thorpe and Cathy Freeman.
He denied he had been avoiding D'Arcy in the village but said he had not spoken to him except to wish him well one week ago at the team's induction ceremony. It was D'Arcy's 25th birthday that day and the chef de mission led a rendition of 'Happy Birthday'.
"The way he's preparing is really world class," said Green on the eve of the controversial butterflyer's Olympic debut.
"He's put his head down, he's really focused, he's really ready to race and he's prepared the right way. As a member of the team of course I'll be supporting him."