Olympic Update Number 3
This is next piece is written over a couple of days.
OMG – what a race from Sullivan and Cohen. The athletes’ lounge at the NZ tower was full, and most of us thought they were gone! Obviously most of us are not rowing connoisseurs! We were so loud – jumping and whooping and pumping the fists - the way all the winners seem to do these days, except we did not cry!!!
The mood here is lifted again. Winning a gold is so important it seems! It has overtaken sense of melancholy that we were not performing as well as we thought – and I mean no disrespect to our athletes. I come back to the fact that this is the OLYMPICS. Everyone has trained for this moment.
What a race – timed to perfection and whilst we panicked in the room, they stuck to their race plan…. And the rest is history as people say. And you don’t need to be a giant with huge levers to be a good rower? Well whilst they were towered by their rivals on the podium, theirs was the gold!
Do you remember the Evers-Swindell twins, 4 years ago - same thing – timed to perfection?
Yesterday started well for me – I walked to the stadium instead of going to the gym and trying to emulate the supersapines that surround me. Osmosis doesn’t work – by surrounding yourself and being immersed in an elite sports environment, has not made me faster, stronger or fitter. Age wins in this game, and nothing stops the ravages of time – except a good dose of anabolic steroids – I joke, and obviously it’s not a light hearted topic!
I managed to get into the stadium – the day before athletics started, when it’s officially out of bounds to most. The place appeared empty apart from a few people clearing up scaffolding and applying the final touches to the stadium, before the athletics program started the next day. I took a few pictures of the stadium and then had a wild, and naughty idea percolated through my sub conscious! I took off my backpack and I jumped over a barrier and was on the Olympic track! I ten proceeded to jog around the track x2 (800m) – actually I ran as fast as I could (which equates to a jog for most these days). There was still no one attempting to stop me. Then I ran/sprinted 100 m – crossed the line first and beat everyone, winning the race in a new world record – camera flashes everywhere! I burst into tears – pointed to the heavens, thanked everyone who’d helped me
Realise this golden moment. I raised my hands – Pointing fingers up – indicating I was number 1 in the world. I draped a NZ flag proudly around my shoulders and…….. then at last, someone spotted me – out of place! An official approached me and asked me what the …….…. was I doing?
‘Just running a 100m………and I’ve got 10 repeats to do, mate,’ was my quick retort and answer. Time to leave, I thought, but I was happy. And as I walked back around the track (the long way to savour the glory!!), I could here the crowds cheering and waving to me, acknowledging my incredible feet. I managed a few more photo shots as I high tailed it out of there.
So we’re off the mark - 3 golds all in rowing now. The rowing legacies continue and thank goodness for rowing.
God, rowing is so hard. I always tell everyone it’s the hardest sport, physically – and every time I get onto a rowing ergometer, I’m reminded about why I think this way. We’re all excited and over the moon – we have arrived at London now, chest puffed and proud NZers. For a nation of only 4 million, we’re going to make a statement.
The Brit papers have been full of recriminations and questions about where there supposed gold rush is. As a home nation, one expects the massive partisan crowds to lift their athletes to super human performances, and they say a home games is equivalent to an extra 10 medals at leats. I’m sure it happens all over the world – people knocking perceived under performers! Well the Tall Poppy syndrome is alive and flourishing in the UK as well as NZ! I’m sure home advantage helps, but I suspect that for younger less mature athletes and those with certain personality types, it may be a hindrance?
Our hockey team crashed 5-1 to Nederlands. I felt sad and frustrated – close game but at the end, we didn’t put away our chances away and the Dutch were skilful and deserved a win. Maybe there is too much emphasis on winning. I think the boys focused on trying to win, rather than the basics of any game. It’s easy when after 4-8 years of training, your moment of truth is nigh and the emotion and adrenalin are high. You’re so focused on a result that you forget the basics required. I’ve witnessed many an athlete and child(!!) fall foul of that one.
A day has gone by, and the papers and the Brits are now reflecting on a Gold medal rush. But what’s even more interesting is the comments from the GB winners – “Girl Power” is the catch phrase, which takes me back to the Spice Girls! I laughed at first and then a discussion came up – these games are meant to “inspire a generation’ That’s the phrase that the UK team and Olympic bods are using – and surely it will. Isn’t sport meant to do that. As parents we hope our children will be healthy and enjoy sport – maybe excel. We see the glory and riches top-level sports people achieve – rightly or wrongly. The sacrifice and tears and desperation and loss are forgotten. The fact top-level sports people feel the need to cheat, and have fraught relationships with their partners (a gross generalisation, I know) is forgotten. The fact that to succeed requires a degree of selfishness that most would condemn is forgotten.
I am struck by the athletes who have stories of adversity – they all climb their own personal Everest - some deal with more than others – the loss of partners form cancer was one story, the loss of parents who sacrificed their lives to be a taxi service and encourage their prodigy to continue and dies before their time, and certainly without witnessing the fruits of their labour. No wonder there is such an outpouring of tears and emotion on the podium. I have seen and witnessed the sacrifice and certainly it is of no surprise that flood gates open.
Lets get back to Girl power. There are few role models in women’s sport in UK – that’s not true – but they get less coverage. In NZ we have been blessed – Sarah Ulmer, Val Adams and the Ever-Swindell twins. The picture of sport is sometimes not that wonderful – the brute testosterone and power, the cynical, professional fouls, the ludicrous money values, and absurd marketing, the doping scandals…. The list is endless. And often those role models whom we hold up as gods – are just human after all and avail themselves to the same sordid acts as any other!
But now we can witness power and grace, and without being sexist, beauty. The UK women’s’ cycling and rowing team, epitomise this for GB. Obviously, I’ve been in the village too long and am too far removed from reality! But I hope that young women - girls and teenagers will see that sport is not just ugly brute force, but can be cool and fun and rewarding, and indeed a whole generation of women will partake in sport rather than feel it is not worth doing. Maybe this Olympics will ignite a few dreams.
Now there’s this man called Phelps – the greatest Olympian to date. 21 meds – 17 gold and he’s not done yet, at these Olympics. Is he the greatest Olympian? Some say no, as swimming is the only sport that allows an individual to amass such a total, and therefore he’s at an unfair advantage.
First let me say that any medal on this stage is amazing – true it’s not a world championship – and there is a subtle difference. For example the Olympics throws up athletes who shouldn’t be there - remember Eddy the Eel. And countries that wouldn’t normally be represented at a World championship. The Olympics has a quota system and an A and B qualifying mark. Each country can decide on who will go and represent their country, if an athlete achieves such a mark. In NZ we will only fund an athlete to the Olympics if they will achieve a top 16 finish. Other countries will send athletes to the Olympics irrespective of their position. In a world championship – we’d never see such athletes. To take an extreme example, in Table Tennis, a world championship would feature 6-8 players from China, in the later stages of a competition – whereas here in the Olympics, China can only have 2 players. In a sense this is the Olympic ideal, as dreamt up by Pierre de Coubertain. And I love it – I see athletes from all body types and ethnic features, from 200 odd countries of all shapes and sizes in one place. Otherwise athletics have their own championship, as do swimming, as do fencing or archery. At the Olympics it’s all on tap at one venue at one period of time – it doesn’t get better than that for a sports fan. And what about a 34 stone (approx. 220 kg) judo exponent!! I kid you not. The immense variations of the human being is on view – all be it, the top end of the human race (in ‘athletic’ performance).
So back to Phelps – he is the greatest (apart from Muhammed Ali), surely – he is in a sport, which is open to all – not a minority sport open to a few privileged persons. And he is in a sport where young athletes prevail – the peak age for a swimmer seems to be 16-19 years old. Older swimmers seldom survive – but Phelps has dominated and he has kept the young guns at bay. I believe he is the greatest for that reason. There will be a few who take exception at my remark about elite sports – what I’m talking about us a numbers game. Back to my comment about China eventually dominating - they’re now coming through in sports such as rowing, hockey, cycling. The days when all they could do is hit a ping-pong ball are gone.
Next time apart from talking more about our successes!!, I want you all to think about what makes a successful athlete?
It’s a broad question and of course how do you define successful. Lets just say elite.
Bye for now, as I wait for super Saturday – the busiest day in a sense – rowing swimming athletics cycling – all on at once!!
Spare a thought for Miriam who’s going to navigate the Olympic traffic – I think a mass of humanity washing through Olympic park. She’s taking Tilly and Jin to see NZ vs. USA at hockey at 7 pm – peak hour traffic.
Me, I’m going to sit back and watch 4 screens for the whole day as well as try and get a live stream from the Chiefs vs. Sharks game back home. I forgot – I’ll probably have some work to do!
Today will feature rowing – Emma Twigg and the doubles – Taylor and Eru, hockey, triathlon and track cycling – wow that’s just for NZ athletes.
And a final thought – she didn’t medal, but broke her NZ record and saved swimming NZ some blushes, but not a review. And she was full of self-doubt! Lauren Boyle of course. A graceful, quiet swan – who went about her task and did so well and without making a fuss. There were no excuses before a race, no blaming injuries before getting into the water – just a delight to deal with and the epitome of a NZ athlete.