I am fortunate to be in the business of sport. I have been to many of the world’s greatest sporting cathedrals, match ups, tournaments, single day battles and multi-stage wars. Nothing I have been to compares to life in a bubble as part of Team South Africa in Tokyo.
The journey to get there lasted 48 hours for us once we were done with all of the COVID-19 protocols and pronounced negative and free to travel to the Olympic Village. When we got there, we were blasted by 36°C heat with 60% humidity and the hope and energy radiating from 10 000 new roommates. To say that it was electric is an understatement, it was a massive miracle that we were even there to compete given what the planet is going through.
The first week is all about adjusting to life in the village. Getting to and from the training and competition venues, booking transport, re-booking transport and arranging last minute friendlies to test pitches, pools, screens and tech. All the best facilities in the world but no one in the stands to appreciate the on-field skill and mastery was something difficult to accept.
The second week is where things start to get real. The energy builds until the opening ceremony which always takes place on a Friday night. At this stage everyone is still in with a chance of a medal, it is a special, fragile fleeting moment that changes the moment competition starts on the Saturday as people start getting knocked out and have to pack their bags to go home. Athletes are only allowed to remain in the village for 48 hours after their events are finished.
All of the athletes have trained, bled, sweated and sacrificed for significant portions of their lives to get to the Olympic Games and then is all over in blink of an eye. A culmination of life-long dreams and the creation of memories that will be with them forever!
16 days of glory!! The results, medals, triumphs, and tribulations are well documented. The times, distances, heights, and scores define the athletes and their teams for eternity.
Being there taught me many things that I hope never to forget.
- Sport is brutal. Many athletes sacrifice years of their lives for seconds in an arena. One minute you are on top and the next it is all over. 11 years for 103 seconds.
- Thousands of a second separates the also-swams from the medalists.
- Everyone needs a coach. Athletes cannot do it on their own. The true heroes are never on the pitch, track or in the pool.
- You can’t bank rest. Your pillow should be the first thing we all pack before heading on a long trip to the other end of the planet. Cardboard beds are not ideal but you get the hang of them eventually.
- It all starts with a dream. Don’t give up until you achieve it. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
- Beauty and brutality live right alongside each other in the world of sport.
- Being mentally fit is just as important as physical fitness. Sport climbing was the most incredible display of these two things in action.
- South Africans are the most amazing people. It is only when you are amongst all of the other nations in the world that you find out just what makes us so special and so different.
- Making new friends and having shared experiences is more rewarding in your forties than you might think it would be.