40 Year Wait to be an OlympianPosted: July 29, 2012
I dreamed of being an Olympian since I could walk, talk and spell IOC. But as the years passed, and circumstances changed, this dream became no more than “that would’ve been great!” A bit like winning a lottery really… Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed that I would be sharing an Olympics Games with South African Olympians!
My WOW day started when Oscar Pistorius arrived in the office. Wearing jeans and a t-shirt he looked so different! What a hotty! I jumped in and offered to take him to the dining room to eat with other track athletes. On the way there I told him how proud we are of him and his achievements, that everyone I know admires what he has done, and that we South Africans wish him the very best! He said he was so touched by the support and that he felt overwhelmed with the expectation. I told him it was because he was doing something so special and amazing. He was so humble and when we arrived in the dining room he shook my hand, thanked me and said, “God bless you!” Shew! That was such a special 5 minutes for me! Incredible!
The athletes’ dining room is huge! There are sections from every corner of the world serving absolutely any type of food your heart desires – kosher, hallal, diabetic, Indian, Asian, Mc Donald’s (or course, as they have ploughed millions into the Games). There is even a nutritionist on duty 24/7 (the dining hall is open 24 hours) to advise the athletes on diet etc. Walking through the dining hall, I knew I am amongst the best of the best….surreal!
As I was working on the computer later that afternoon, I realised an athlete was sitting on the couch behind me. I turned around and it was Caster Semenya!!! She giggled, joked and chatted with everyone who came into the office. She was so relaxed and her manner was soo gentle. Knowing what she has gone through, and seeing her here, so normal and quite shy, I love her more. She is truly something special!
As the Opening Ceremony began, some Olympians and officials gathered in the office around the TV. I have no idea who they all are, or what sports they do, but it was so chilled with an element of excitement for the ceremony ahead. Everyone so enjoyed it…there were ‘ooooh’ s and ‘aaahh’s throughout.
About 10 minutes before we had to start our march, Patience, the Chef de Mission called everyone together for a quick briefing and to run through the procedure. When she mentioned Caster and the South African flag the whole squad cheered and clapped. Everyone in the squad just love this lovely girl and have felt her pain on her remarkable journey.
The Team SA Games Makers (volunteers), nominated me to carry the RSA placard and lead the SA Olympians to the Olympic stadium. How utterly amazing!
At 10.03pm, I walked from the Olympic Village with South Africa’s top sporting men and women and we started our march towards the stadium. We had Somalia ahead of us and Spain behind us.
Along the route there were cheering school children with flags from different countries. Twice I was called over to take the RSA placard to the fence and pose with the SA flag. It was incredible to have Olympians take MY photo!
At one point there was a commotion behind me. I turned around to Patience (the Chef de Mission) dancing and singing. This is what South Africans are about! They love life! I am so proud!
For many of the athletes this was the first time they were seeing the gorgeous stadium so they were filming, taking photos and posing with the crowds and the stadium in the background.
It was after 11:00pm when we arrived at the stadium and Caster Semenya took over from me. She was given the South African flag to cheers from her fellow Olympians, heaps of photos, and off they went.
I felt flat! It had been so electric, and suddenly I was alone in a crowd, with the RSA placard. With tears in my eyes I turned towards the big screen just in time to see the best athletes from my beloved Rainbow Nation enter the Olympic stadium, with Caster proudly waving at the crowds. There I was in a sea of people, but with no one to share how utterly proud I was to be there, be a South African and to have spent the last hour leading our talented Olympians.
I made my way back to the Olympic Village and got back to the office just in time to see the last of Team GB enter the stadium.
One of the operations guys passing the office popped in to watch the Torch and the lighting of the cauldron and when the fireworks started, we both rushed out to watch the colours explode across the Olympic Village skyline. We looked at each other and, at the same time, exclaimed, “Wow!”
Not long afterwards one of the heavily armed policemen popped in for a chat. He told me that the last 2 weeks have been the highlight of his policing career. He told me how his 8 year old son, Harry, had asked him if the man with the ‘springy legs’ would be at the Games. A few minutes later Oscar Pistorius walked in! He chatted for a bit and when he left I asked the policeman if he knew who that had been..how chuffed he was when I told him. Oscar came back…he was was so sweet! “Let me sign something for him”. He frantically looked around for something to sign. All we had was the little SA flag Oscar had carried in the stadium, so he signed that, had a photo and the policeman mouthed a thank you to me before leaving. You just know that Mr Policeman will be his son’s hero for getting the photo and a signed flag made out to ‘Harry from Oscar Pistorious’!
When I got into bed at 2:30am I knew that few days (if any) in my life would top what I had been so privileged to experience that day…