Heroes and RoyaltyPosted: August 2, 2012
Few people have the privilege of being behind the scenes of the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’! And even fewer people can say that their day was sprinkled with the fastest man on the planet, gold medallists, champion athletes, a professional golfer, and royalty….
One of the most ‘proudly South African’ sportsmen I know, Tjaart van der Walt, was at the Olympic Village yesterday. Tjaart has been a pro golfer since 1996, and has played the US and now the European and Asian circuits. This year he achieved the most amazing result of coming 2nd in the Africa Open Golf Challenge, and between the Austria Open and a well deserved 3 week break in South Africa, before heading up to Gleneagles at the end of August, he stopped off at the Olympic Village to share the special environment with his fellow South African sports heroes.
I met Tjaart, his wife Vicki, Geraldine and Sam Schoeman (the fabulous South African swimmer, Roland Schoeman’s mother and sister) at the main entrance of the Village.
While waiting, a lady wearing her Greek tracksuit came up to me:
“Hi,”she said. “How are you?”
We started chatting and she is the swimmer Theodora Giareni. She was just so excited about being at the Games, has swum her race (4x100m freestyle relay) and is now just enjoying being here. I told her I would follow her career and I look forward to seeing her at the next Games. She was just so thrilled! Again this is the spirit of the Games – the spontaneous interaction and the energy!
After receiving their guest passes we spent the morning wander through the streets of the Village, soaking up the atmosphere. They, as I am daily, were completely blown away by the experience – the athletes from so many countries milling about, going for a jog, having a snack at the ‘Grab & Go’ carts dotted around the Village. In amongst the crowds they even saw Usain Bolt!
The shapes and sizes of the athletes intrigue me, so I play this little game. I try to guess what sport an athlete plays or participates in. A real stereotyping game, but fun! If they are wearing a Kenyan tracksuit, and are small and slight – distance athlete; if they are in Hungarian colours, big and bulky – wrestler; and in USA kit, and ridiculously tall – basketballer. Great fun!
The final stop was for my special guests to see the Team SA office, where it all happens, and were introduced to the Team SA officials, before I escorted them to the main entrance and bid them farewell. Such a privilege!
The Chef de Mission asked me to find out the protocol for the evening’s swimming events for our Sport Minister. I made my way to the Protocol office, and there were frantic crowds in the Village Plaza (this is the only area in the Village where journalists can go). I wasn’t sure what was going on, but decided to head to a spot where it looked like the crowd was moving…and my heart started pounding…
And there, a few metres away from me, were William and Kate! I could not believe it! They had come with Harry (I was so wrapped up in seeing the Cambridges, that I didn’t even look behind them, so completely missed him), to visit the Team GB residence in the Village. What a complete and utter treat! I still cannot believe they were so close to me. The Village Plaza was abuzz, but interestingly few people in the Village even knew they had come. It really just shows how focused people are on why they are here in London – to represent their countries and perform to their utmost best. A visit from royalty just passes them by.
A day I can only say was inspiration, unique and WOW!