Thursday, August 9, 2012

My reflections on London 2012

Dear Swimmers

It is with much excitement and sense of awe that I write to you from over here in London where I've been fortunate enough to have been throughout the entire Olympic Games. I am struggling to explain exactly how this experience feels for me and what I am witnessing it doing for all sport and even the British nation as a whole...but I will try!

We kicked off our tour by shooting straight down to the wonderful Cardiff International Pool in south Wales where it was a balmy 31ÂșC to deliver our first 3-day Coach Education course and met 12 fantastic coaches and then 12 developing swimmers on the final day, all of whom made some significant improvement in their coaching and swimming skills respectively:

The coaches get involved directly with the swimmers on day 3 in a 1-2-1 environment

The swimmers are introduced to the concept of using Wetronomes and Tempo Trainers to assist with developing stroke rhythm

Paul and Adam with the coaches at the end of the 3-day course

Given the fact that Great Britain has spent millions of pounds over the last 14 years on British sport, the country was initially affronted by the prospect of potentially failing to deliver when Mark Cavendish only finished 29th in the cycle road race on Day 1. Despite Bradley Wiggins taking the Maillot Jaune at Le Tour de France just 6 days earlier, this left the country initially a little deflated, but such is the random nature of cycle road racing, especially without the use of race radios to help riders be aware of their positioning and what is happening up the road ahead.

We then made our way over to London after a quick trip to see my parents in North Wales and had 2 days free to be able to take Jackson and Isla to the Natural History Museum (a personal favourite of mine as I've always loved dinosaurs, and so too now does Jackson) and also Legoland in Windsor which was a lot of fun:

JJ and Paul being chased by an animatronic T-Rex - scary!

Jackson powering along in a F1 lego car in Windsor

Iconic images in London

Our first disappointment of our trip came last Thursday when we thought we had secured tickets for the swimming finals. Sadly these turned out to be fake and we had to report the whole saga to the police. Ticket fraud is big business over here at the moment and these tickets were worth nearly $1,200 too! VISA are doing everything they can to protect their card users though so hopefully we'll see some resolution here.

If Thursday was a low-level, Saturday turned out to be the highest high I've ever experienced in sport. Being present in the Olympic stadium for the athletics at what is now being dubbed "Super Saturday" was just incredible! We have Gary and Caroline Claydon from Perth to thank for our tickets here as we were able to witness Jessica Ennis (heptathlon), Greg Rutherford (long jump) and Mo Farrah (10km) all claim gold within the space of about 45 minutes. I cannot begin to describe the atmosphere and elation that came from seeing Mo take that gold medal in the 10km - the stadium just erupted!

Proudly wearing GB!

We were sat behind the Olympic flame which was lovely and warming as the temperature dropped

A jam-packed stadium of 80,000!

The women's 100m semi finals

The heptathletes celebrating behind the Olympic flame

With Gary and Caroline "representing" Canada, UK, Hong Kong and Australia - United Nations!

The start of the men's 10km

Mo Farrah - a stunning performance!

Paul and Mish in front of the 115m high "Orbit"

On Monday night we then led a 50-strong field of swimmers through an open water swimming clinic at the fabulous Bray Lake including Perth swimmers Tim Humphry and Richard Kelso-Marsh alongside British triathlon team athlete Harry Wiltshire and a guest appearance from Charlie Houchin, 2012 Olympic gold medallist in the 4 x 200 f/s relay and room-mate to Michael Phelps!

The calm before the storm...

When it rained, it poured!

1 week prior coach Kevin had been on our course in Cardiff, now he's alongside an Olympic Gold medallist!

Harry, Charlie and Matt prior to the timed 1500m swim

That's one heavy medal!

After the open water clinic we were straight down to Hyde Park for the men's triathlon. Erin Densham did well to claim the bronze medal in the women's race on the Saturday, but sadly the UK didn't pick up a medal despite Helen Jenkins being a strong favourite:

Mish and Isla in Hyde Park

Could the British Brownlee Brothers deliver was everyone's question? Yes they did:

It's very easy to forget just how much hard work and dedication goes into even qualifying for the Olympic Games, let alone standing on the dais and listening to the sound of your national anthem being played aloud to literally billions of people worldwide after winning your event - what an incredibly proud and satisfying feeling that must be! I was very fortunate enough to be part of the British World Class Performance Program for triathlon back in 1997 to 2001 in the hope of then building up for the Athens Olympics in 2004. Sadly, severe injury in 2001 put an end to these dreams but what really puts the dedication of those who will compete for Great Britain in London this summer into perspective is that 11 years later, some of my peers are only just qualifying for their first Olympics! In this time I've personally emigrated to Australia, set-up a coaching business, built a website, got married, had two children and swum the English Channel! I've also lost my whippet-like physique of 11 years previous and yet all the while, those who will now be proudly adorning their country's colours in front of the whole world have been steadily progressing and improving with unwavering focus and determination through thousands and thousands of hours of blood, sweat and tears. Amazing, simply amazing. "Devotion" does not even begin to explain it.

That all being said, to see Britain claiming gold and bronze in the men's triathlon was just amazing. Having trained with and then seen Simon Lessing (5 time world champion) sadly only take 9th place in 2000 to seeing Alistair Brownlee take the gold in Hyde Park is the culmination and legacy that British Triathlon has put in place over the last 12-14 years. Britain hasn't just suddenly got good - it's literally taken over a decade of building the world's best sport development infrastructure infused by massive amounts of money and grants through the National Lottery system to reach this point. And it's only going to get better. For a country in severe economic crisis, I cannot begin to explain what these results are doing to lift the mood of the population. Being here and witnessing it first hand is truly remarkable. I know I will be taunted back in Perth for being pro-British, but this is my heritage and background and I am truly very proud to have been present at the start of this whole process and to see it now finally flourishing. 

What many people won't understand is that it's not just the money injection that has helped British sport but what has been done to proactively make best use of this funding, especially when in the early days and with the lack of medals it appeared to the world that Britain was squandering this support. The reality is that it takes this long for a country to develop the infrastructure necessary for these results to come, just like it takes an athlete 10-15 years to truly start to reach their peak. There are no short-cuts and quick fixes and it will be easy for skeptics to say that "if we had all that money, we could do the same" especially with the reports that each gold medal has effectively cost Britain £2.5m to £5.0m, but this would be scuffing over the fact that it's so, so much more than this. The National Lottery was set-up in Britain in 1994 and the then British Prime Minister (John Major) sought to use this money to benefit the sports and arts - this was 18 years ago now! Britain (now in 3rd place overall on the medal tally behind China and the USA) took it's lead from Australia as the world's leading sporting nation and I only hope that Australia and the rest of the world will in turn look now towards what the UK has done to turn Australia around and back into the sporting super-power that it was and should be. 

Seeing first-hand just how deep the sporting development has gone over here in the UK from grass roots up is incredible. That just doesn't happen over night. On a radio interview with a British Hockey representative yesterday they spoke of how hockey clubs the nation over were all ready and prepped to absorb the influx of interest following the Olympic Games - not next week or next month or next season, but now when it matters most. Every other sport is exactly the same as this. Britain has clearly and effectively identified a performance pathway that works and it now looks set to really benefit from this heading towards Rio in 2016. Will other countries sit up and take note and will they be willing and able to put in the same infrastructure that Britain has? We have 4 years to wait and see...

...OK, gotta go, Keri-anne Payne is now leading the women's 10km marathon swim in the Serpentine...



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