Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Inspiring performances at the Olympics

This year in Rio de Janeiro the 2016 Summer Olympics were held and as usual there were some inspiring performances by athletes from all over the world

Today I would like to talk about three performances from the last 25 years that have really struck a cord with me. Performances that I have looked for on Youtube from time to time.

You might be surprised to know that of the three performances none of them are New Zealanders. Actually two of them are Australians so I can't be accused of bias here.

First of all, I would like to go back to 1992 and the Barcelona Olympics. The favourite to win the women’s 1500 meters was the world champion Hassiba Boulmerka.

She started off the race hanging in the pack and in the last lap sprinted away to win the gold medal. 

What really got me was the way she celebrated. She didn’t have a smile on her face but she almost had an angry expression and it almost seemed like she was mouthing off to the cameras. That struck me as weird but didn’t think much about it until a few years later when thanks to Wikipedia I was able to look her up and find out why she had that emotion?

You see, Hassiba Boulmerka is from Algeria and what is the major religion in Algeria? Yes, Islam. Boulmerka ran the race in shorts and singlet like everyone else in the race. The problem was that the religious conservative people did not like it so when she won her country’s first ever gold medal at the Olympics she was giving the big FU to some of the people back home.

Boulmerka had overcome a great deal. She couldn’t train in Algeria so she showed that she was really tough and I will remember that race for a long time.

After putting this video on this blog, I was reading the comments and it seems that only certain elements of the Algerian were against her and most were for her which is very nice to see. 

The second gold medal performance was from the Sydney Olympics in 2000. The main gold medal prospect out side of the swimming pool for Australia was the one and only Cathy Freeman. Cathy Freeman had won the silver medal at Atlanta in 1996 and was one of the favorites for the 400 meters in Sydney and because it was in Australia there was added pressure. 

Cathy Freeman also had the honour of lighting the Olympic flame in the Opening Ceremony so she was almost the poster child of the games and the pressure on her to deliver was immense.

She started the race slowly but by the 200 meters she got into her stride and sprinted away on the home strait to win. The reason I remember this race was not the Australian crowd going nuts for the 40 odd seconds that it took her to run the race, what I remember about the race was the absolute look of relief on Cathy Freeman’s face. 

There was no smile; there was no wave to the crowd it was just relief.  Like the weight of the world was lifted from her shoulders. I almost felt sorry for her in a weird way. It took her a few minutes to get up and do her lap of honour.

The last gold medal performance I would like to show you a photo. Do you know who the guy on the left is?

This is Steven Bradbury. He won Australia’s first ever Winter Olympic gold medal at the Salt Lake City Olympic games in 2002. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the Australian Embassy in Tokyo in 2011. When I heard that he was speaking I was one of the first to buy tickets.

Steven Bradbury won a gold medal in the 1000 metres short track speed skating. I was lucky enough to be watching it on TV and it is my favourite Olympic Games moment.

Bradbury was in the final with four other competitors, an American, a Canadian, a Chinese and a South Korean. 

He started off slowly and was last throughout the entire race until the final lap. The competitors came into the last corner and to put a long story short, they all fell over except for Stephen Bradbury who skated across the line with a look of surprise on his face. 

My instant thought was “shit he won.” Even though I am a proud Kiwi I thought good on him, well done.

In 2011 I went to his presentation where he talked about that particular Olympic Games. He said that he had got through to the final by skating behind everyone and then they all fell over and he made it through to the final. He said since that worked in the semis why should he change his tactics for the final.

Immediately after winning the final, Steven Bradbury was confused. What should he do? Should he accept the gold medal, then he thought, “I will not be accepting the medal for the race today, I’m going to accept it for the last twelve years of training.”

He has become somewhat of a celebrity in Australia and does frequent public speaking. 

When I went and talked to him after his presentation I said you have probably been asked this question many times and he said I know what you are going to ask and I said can I ask you anyway, he said yes. I said what to did you think when you crossed that line? He said “Shit I won.”

What do all of these athletes have in common? They all had a dream and went for it. I think that is what we should all do. 

Let me finish this post by quoting Will Smith from the movie The Pursuit of Happyness.

“Don’t ever let anybody tell you, you can’t do something. Not even me. "You got a dream... You gotta protect it. People can't do somethin' themselves, they wanna tell you, you can't do it. If you want somethin', go get it. Period."

These Olympians had a dream and they went and got it.

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