Sitting in quarantine, I am slowly getting back to some normalcy outside of the Olympic bubble. This has meant the process of reaching out to friends and colleagues to return messages of support and reflect on the journey. One of the most common questions you have from people, even those with a background in elite sport, is directed towards what the Olympic experience is like.
The first word that comes to mind is not what you expect. Familiar.
Standing on the warm up track watching the best athletes in the world warm up or lining up for food behind Yao Ming (he now works as an executive with Chinese Basketball), there was an odd sense of familiarity to the experience. For some unknown reason it did not feel foreign to be there, nor did it feel as though these people were the superheroes that you see on TV. It felt very much a normal experience. The common feeling of everyone working towards achieving their absolute best was felt throughout. You could sense the underlying camaraderie associated with each and every athlete, Australian or not, that they were there to perform. I believe this may have felt familiar for two reasons. In high performance sport you aim to surround yourself with people that have similar values and goals. And oddly enough you could feel this when speaking with athletes and coaches from different sports. The second is that their behaviours mirror that of yourself and other athletes that you were with or compete against. Everyone was eating healthy, training hard, being meticulous with planning and with recovery. You could feel the shared goal of achieving ultimate success. And this felt utterly familiar and oddly comforting.
The other major descriptor that I would give to the Olympic experience is tedious. For those who know me well, I am extremely impatient at the best of times. I am the annoying person that will call you rather than text, because I cannot wait for a response. And global, large scale events like the Olympics require enormous patience. There are so many small, tedious tasks that need to be met for compliance, from your accreditation process, to transportation in large groups (planes/buses), to meetings and everything in between. High performance sport at these large scale events is tedious and arduous. You are always waiting on something or someone and trying to coordinate around systems that are cumbersome. Even yesterday I heard a story from the Australian Men’s Hockey team staff about how they were doing some training in the basement of the Australian Village building as it was quicker and easier to do it here then spend close to half a day traveling out to the training venue when all they wanted to do was 30 minutes of tactical practice.
But was it exciting?
Yes. Of course it is exciting. Seeing the village and being part of the Australian contingent, watching events from all sports with the Australian cohort is exciting. Walking into the dining hall, the training venues, the Olympic stadium is extremely exciting. And the feeling of immense gratitude is not lost on me for one moment. There is enormous pride to be part of an Australian Olympic team in any capacity. Australian’s are a special bunch, and the envy of the other teams in the village was very real. We are a team that cares about other athletes, about sport and participating in a way that reflects the Australian values of honesty, hard work and sportsmanship. We are rowdy and funny, and enjoy a good time more than most. So more than anything there is a sense of pride to walk through the venues and village and travel wearing the Australian Olympic clothing.
Sport at the Olympic level carries many emotions and is hard to quantify, but mostly it is the business of performance and oddly enough it felt like we were there to get a job done. The hardest part of the emotions relating to the Olympics is they carry more weight than most events. With 4 years between typical Olympic cycles every emotion is amplified. Knowing that minor errors are severely punished at this level and you cannot look one week ahead to redeem yourself is terrifying at times. And there is no other way to say this but the emotions after it has finished, particularly if you or your athletes have not achieved what was expected is gut wrenching. My hope is that with time and future involvements that we can use our experience to improve our preparation and execution in major events.
So when I reflect on the experience of my first involvement in an Olympics, I can honestly say it is hard, but so very worth it.