Out of the mouths of heroes

Staring in awe at the London 2012 Olympic gold and silver medallists at a function recently, I was struck by the fact that they are just ordinary people with an extraordinary drive and passion for their sport.

In between my bacon and eggs and the hundreds of other people who had arrived to catch a glimpse of the heroes, I whipped out my blog book *nerd alert* and took notes as the MC was interviewing them.

In front of me sat Cameron van der Burgh, Chad Le Clos, Caster Semenya and the four rowers John Smith, Matthew Brittan, Sizwe Ndlovu and James Thompson. Here are some of my favourite snippets I managed to write down:

Each and every one of them had that one person in their lives who believed in them. For Caster it was Maria Motola, for Chad, his dad Bert, for rower Sizwe Ndlovu, his headmaster. It’s that one person who never gave up on them and believed in them to the end. It’s important in life to find that person who sees your talent, sees your potential and is with you right until the end.

The sacrifices made are enormous! They are not normal people with normal 9 – 5 lives. They have to watch what they eat and drink, especially the four rowers who needed to ensure they remained at the lightweight under 70kgs level or else they would be disqualified. There is no time for dating, for partying, for holidays or even spending quality time with loved ones. You cannot let your guard down because youngsters are watching you as role models. There is a lot of pressure.

The medallists trained every single day, 7 days a week with every 5th Sunday off. 48 weeks of the year, going full ball and flat out. Most of their days involve training twice a day with gym workouts in-between and physio or yoga or pilates squeezed in there somewhere too. In the words of the rower John Smith, “We trained like slaves but raced like kings”. *This oke was my fav!* After 4 years of hard, dedicated training, it’s all over in a matter of seconds. If you don’t get your medal, it all starts over again.

Best of all is when each of them were asked what they did in their spare time, they all said one thing: Sleep! I guess at least I have one thing in common with them.

5 things I’ll remember from London 2012

It’s all over. As quickly as the Olympic Games arrived, it ended even quicker. But wow, what a great two weeks it was! There were many highs and lows but five key things stood out for me:

1. Pushing yourself to the limit … and then going even further.

It was absolutely incredible to see so many personal bests, new Olympic and World records being set and competitors pushing themselves beyond what they thought possible. What stood out for me? The runners, of course. But watching the weightlifter’s step out on the mat, time and time again, to lift weights that seemed impossible to lift was fascinating to watch. Maybe it’s the smack from the coach across the face that did the trick or the loud shout before the lift? But there’s definitely a look on their faces that you start recognising which tells you ‘they’ve got this in the bag’.

2. Different strokes for different folks.

I really enjoyed most of the swimming, track & field and gymnastic events, but I must be honest when I say that there were some events which I did not watch. In fact I am baffled by the fact that they are even part of the Olympics at all and yet hundreds of spectators filled the grandstands to watch these events. It made me realise that maybe I don’t enjoy watching them but others do. I guess we’re all different and we all enjoy different things.

3. Great legends come with great responsibilities.

I watched in awe and amazement every time two of my favourite stars of this year’s Olympics, Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, came out to compete. However, both ‘legends’ acted very differently in front of the crowds and cameras. Phelps was humble and took time to congratulate other swimmers. Bolt on the other hand revelled in the limelight and became a tad too arrogant for my liking. What disturbs me somewhat is that younger athletes look up to them and I do not know if Bolt realises the power he now holds and the message and image he portrays. Legend, yes. But role model? I’m not so sure.

4. I love you South Africa!

My country is a proud one and one to be proud of! Watching the four gold medallist rowers belt out our national anthem was such an emotional sight! Seeing both Bridgitte Hartley and Caster Semenya’s infectious smiles on the podium was stunning and made me smile too! And who can forget Bert Le Clos – no explanation necessary. I can still hear him saying, “Beautiful!” in his husky voice. I am filled to the brim with pride!

5. Even good athletes give up, but great ones don’t.

I watched the women’s marathon with keen interest because two of my favourite South African runners were participating, but my attention was on the runner who came stone last.  Ireland’s Catriona Jennings in my mind demonstrated true guts and determination. The awesomeness of the crowds as they cheered Jennings home over the final agonising mile of the marathon. Crippled with the pain of a foot injury, Jennings finished last in the women’s race, a full hour after the winners. She was overcome with emotion and I’ll never forget the visible pain on her face as she crossed the finish line and bawled her eyes out.

The lesson: She did not give up, no matter how much it hurt. She showed me that even great athletes also have bad races; even good runners can struggle and come last, but winners never quit.

See you in Rio!