August 12, 2016
What we are all here for
It is probably an indication of just how hectic things become when competition starts that it has been a few days since I last posted here. A gradual build up to the Opening Ceremony moves into a flurry of action the very next day, with teams and individual athletes in various sports heading off on Games transport to their various competition venues to do what they have been training for many years to do. All the struggles of qualifying to be selected, striving to get strength, fitness and skills locked in, as well as staying clear of debilitating injuries, starts to flow into actual delivery. In some sports, like judo, this might mean a single bout (maybe all over in minutes), whilst for others, such as hockey, it will involve several games over several days.
The schedules run from early morning events through to late in the evening. When it is early morning, this will usually involve athletes getting up around 5-6am for an early breakfast, catching a bus to a venue, warming up, and then playing. For those, such as the swimmers, it will mean filling in the day till mid-afternoon, before heading off then and maybe competing around 10-11pm. – then getting transport back to the Village around midnight or even later. In our Athletes’ Lounge area we have three TVs going with different sports beaming in from various venues (mostly events involving Kiwi athletes). Because they are streamed direct from venues there is no commentary, so the visuals are critical and there is frequently a lot of low-level crawling about so that others’ views are not impeded.
There was a lot of excitement on the second day of competition when our trap shooter Natalie Rooney got into the Gold/Silver shoot off and, after starting off well against an Australian shooter, she just fell a bit behind and finished up in 2nd position to get a Silver Medal. Whilst she was always going to be in contention for a good result, getting a Silver Medal was a great thrill for her and for us all. It generated a lot of positive energy and when she arrived back in the Village she was greeted with a full Lounge of Kiwis and a lot of enthusiastic congratulations. The great thing was that despite quite a long history of NZ shooters at the Olympics, this was the best result they have ever achieved.
Following that great start, we then had several days of disappointment. The Women’s 7s Team won a Silver medal also, but they were disappointed as they were on track to win Gold. Unfortunately, they came up against a very strong Australian Team (more NZ/Aussie rivalry) and were quite well beaten. It was rather strange to have them win a Silver medal, but to be so clearly disappointed, with a few tears and a lot of grief overwhelming them for a time. There is not a lot you can say at that point – it needs a day or two for the wounds to heal.
From that point on there have been a few set-backs. A couple of the rowing crews who were expected to be in contention did not advance, then the Eventing equestrian team had a rather dramatic fail. After doing quite well in the dressage phase, they did brilliantly in the cross country, such that overnight they were sitting second and seemed set for a medal (possibly even Gold). However, much to everyone’s surprise they had a bit of a shocker in the show-jumping phase – and even more surprising it was our legendary Mark Todd who had the poorest round. His horse seemed out of sorts and knocked over four rails, which dropped us right out of medal contention. Then to add to the woes, our Men’s Rugby 7s Team had a very surprising loss to Japan in their first game, as well as picking up a couple of tournament-ending injuries. They then beat Kenya, but had another loss to Great Britain. The results of other games meant that they were able to advance into the quarter-finals, but there they had to face Fiji (the favourites) and that was just too big a hurdle. So, again disappointingly, they did not advance into the medal Games.
This morning (Wednesday 10th) I had the privilege of being invited by Linda Villumsen (our current World Champion Individual Time-Trial cyclist) to be part of her race-car entourage. We have been closely connected for the previous 3-4 Commonwealth/Olympic Games campaigns and talked informally quite a bit over the past few days. It was really nice to get the invite as I then had a close-up view of what happens at the sharp-end of such racing. She was scheduled to set off on her ride at 9.04am, so that meant an early morning start. I got up at 5am and had a quick breakfast, then those of us involved went to the venue (as well as Linda, there was the mechanic, HP Director, Coach, Physician and myself).
We were allocated a small tent where her equipment was set up. She did quite a major warm up and was then in due course called to the start line. As she took off, we moved in directly behind her and tracked her throughout the 40+ minutes of the race. The weather was bad and the roads slippery, so it was rather precarious at points. The route was both physically and technically demanding and even though she rode really well, she finished up in 6th position. In the car we kept in touch with her on the radio and were able to send her messages. Again, the result was disappointment for her and it took a while for her to pick herself up again. However, for me, I was tremendously impressed with her resilience and mental toughness. She is a great athlete and a lovel young woman – she deserved to get something out of her long and hard work, but that is what the Olympics can do – it can eat you up.
Here’s hoping that things start to turn around over the next few days (or I might need these guys).