“We will smash them like guitars”

Australians are reliving the 2000 Summer Olympic Games, which ran from 15 September to 1 October 2000. One story which was quite notorious at the time and which has featured in the media recently involves the US swimmer Gary Hall Jr. He was widely quoted as saying that “we [the US 4 x 100m freestyle relay team] will smash them [the Australian team] like guitars”. There were, and are, two problems with that quotation. The first is what happened actually on the night of 16 September 2000:

The second is the way that the Australian media quoted, and still quote, what Hall wrote, which was actually: “My biased opinion says that we will smash them like guitars. Historically the U.S. has always risen to the occasion. But the logic in that remote area of my brain says it won’t be so easy for the United States to dominate the waters this time.”

“My biased opinion” and “it won’t be so easy to dominate” give him just enough wriggle room. It was his biased opinion, and it wasn’t so easy.

Quotations need to be concise, but it is easy and often tempting to select and present portions of a quotation which give a distorted meaning, or even the opposite meaning.

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