Work in Sports
The name game
Aussie teams all have unique aliases
SYDNEY, Australia -- These are the first Olympics held in an English-speaking country that begs for subtitles.
No, not under fair dinkum and all those other Aussie-isms that have been done to death by television reporters from both sides of the Pacific who troll the cute beat for stories, finding those five-minute, slice-o'-life tales of clashing cultures that illuminate the human condition and fill five minutes of air time between the equestrian event and badminton.
On Tuesday, Channel 7, the Australian host broadcaster, aired a side-splitting piece in which its man with the microphone stopped foreigners and urged them to say "G'day" with what the unfortunate tourists hoped were Australian accents. Mirth abounded.
But if your concern runs to sport and not yuks, the question is: "What, exactly, is a kookaburra?"
Is it a) the Australian women's handball team; b) the Australian women's field hockey team; or c) the Australian men's handball team?
The answer, I am told, is d) the Australian men's field hockey team.
The men's water polo team is the Redbacks, the women's field hockey team is the Hockeyroos, the men's handball team is the Crocodiles.
"This is a country of nicknames," said Robyne Young, a media officer for the Australian Olympic Committee. "Like if somebody is redheaded, he might be called Blue. If somebody is tall, he'll probably be called Shorty.
"This is just something that developed over time. Maybe it comes from our British heritage, the tradition of rhyming slang. Sometimes it comes from the media and sometimes the teams give themselves names. It catches on."
Young, called Bobby Sox by her father -- see, Robyne is like Bobby and, well, never mind -- apparently is an expert on nicknames. She comes from Albury, on the New South Wales-Victoria border some 400 miles from Sydney, a city of 45,000 that is home to the Flying Fruit Fly Circus. The Flying Fruit Fly Circus -- gee, I love typing that -- took part in the Opening Ceremonies. The troupe is called, of course, the Fruities.
This is all wonderfully colorful but not terribly helpful to a stranger who can't keep the Opals (the women's basketball team) straight from the Matildas (the women's soccer team), the Olyroos (the men's soccer team) from the Boomers (the men's basketball team).
A boomer, Young explained, is a nickname for a kangaroo. The appellation was made famous by folk singer Rolf Harris, who sang the execrable Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport and Six White Boomers, a Christmas song about kangaroos who guide Santa's sleigh in place of non-antipodal reindeer. An opal is a gemstone that is found all over Australia, most notably at overpriced jewelry stores in The Rocks district. A redback is a poisonous spider. A 'roo is, well, a 'roo.
And Aussies can keep all these nicknames straight?
"Oh, yes," Young said. "There's a Sydney rugby league team called the Sharks, but when the subject is the Olympics everyone knows we're talking about the men's water polo team."
In any case, the Aussies have nothing on the New Zealand -- a.k.a. Kiwi -- Olympic teams.
Its men's basketball squad is known as the Tall Blacks.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Farber is in Sydney covering the Games for the magazine and CNNSI.com. Check back daily to read Farber's behind-the-scenes reports from Down Under.