Looking Beyond 2012
Looking Beyond 2012
By Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson
Many people, wrongly, assume that the day-to-day life of an athlete is filled with glamour and excitement. It is true that there are moments like that, such as when competing at major games and winning a gold medal in front of 85,000 people. It is an incredible experience of elation, a little bit of relief and it is almost impossible to put into words the feeling as you cross the line, and you know that all the hard work has paid off.
The day-to-day reality is somewhat different as it is filled with routine, most of it mundane; training, eating, resting, and doing it all again, at least six days a week, for fifty weeks of the year.
As a young athlete it all feels so easy, and it can seem that every time you go out on the track you can break your personal best. Towards the end of my career, over a whole year’s training I was looking at, and was grateful for, improving 0.01 second over 800 metres. While my Paralympic career was over five Games, the total length of time that I competed was for just under 20 minutes. In that time I won 16 Paralympic medals, 11 of them gold. But it shows the reality between hard work and the limited time and sometimes opportunity you have to achieve the things that you really want.
In the year of the Olympics and Paralympics on home soil, it has felt like 2012 has been a long time coming. Since the inception of the bid, when so many people didn’t think that there was any point in trying because London wasn’t going to win, to the moment when in Singapore in 2005 the team won. The level of expectation is huge, and has also raised the levels of pressure on athletes higher than ever before. While the British public are passionate supporters of the teams, for a far longer period there has been interest in younger athletes on the verge of the squad as well as the names we know. Every selection announcement has been scrutinised at a higher level than ever before, and every move or potential injury monitored.
I was involved in the bid, because it was about the moment of the Games, but it was also about having an opportunity to consolidate the gains that had been made in Paralympic sport, both at the elite level and right down to the grass roots. It would highlight the continuing need to have effective school sport and the right access to sports clubs.
It also brought about a major change to the eastend of London, regeneration of housing, new schooling, and vastly improved transport links. It won’t just be the best served Games in recent history for transport, but reaching that part of London was essential for the long-term legacy. As exciting as the Games will be in the summer of this year, it is the positive effect of the Games that will be felt for years to come.
There is no doubt that London at Games time is ‘busy’. But it has also been an opportunity to show the world that London is open for business, ensuring that all those who have stayed and worked in London have been able to do the things that they needed to. Part of the difference is the unique feeling in the city at Games time, another thing that is hard to put into words. With the supporters from various nations literally showing their support on their sleeves, their face painting, their rucksacks and their wigs, it becomes easier to work out who is supporting whom. I also think that for these Games we have seen the British support come out in a way that we have not before. With lots of medals already won and still expected from both teams, this is the UK’s chance to shine in more ways than one.