by KATHERINE COLLETTE
It was about the same time Ian Thorpe was winning Olympic gold (for the first time) that I realised in the sporting world I was probably destined to be more Number 1 Fan – and all that that implied in terms of enormous foam hands – than Number 1. This wasn’t through lack of trying; it was very much due to an absence of innate skill. Having attempted and failed, I’m in pole position to appreciate the commitment, the drive and the ability of our sporting heroes. Here’s the low down on why some of us are destined for the spectator’s seat:
1. Swimming. Swimming is a brutal, brutal sport. Not only is it extremely unflattering but it is also so, so bad for your hair. Swimmers deserve respect not only for appearing scantily clad in public but also because they’re openly risking snot-laden victory photos. I’ve never seen an Australian swimmer with a boogie mounting the abyss between nostril and lower lip, but at the Ashburton kiddies pool? Par for the course! And racing! It’s the worst! I learnt very quickly I didn’t have the necessary mental edge, the killer instinct and, from about three or four metres in, I also didn’t have my cap, which had rolled off along with my goggles on belly-whacking entry.
2. Rowing. Far and away the highlight of my rowing career was the day I purchased the special, form fitting and not-so cheap zoot suit in anticipation of my first regatta. Outside Self was cool, calm, collected – ‘Oh, yeah, think it fits’ – while Inside Self was wearing gold hotpants and crumping to Vanilla Ice (read: Ke$ha). The lowlight was pretty much everything else: said regatta, training, rowing, running… Losing one shoe in the change room and having to catch the train home in a sock… Having to wear hand-me-down Homy Peds for the rest of my schooling career. So, yeah, rowers are awesome, the sport’s practically impossible.
3. Gymnastics. Gymnastics is hard, people. It’s for the brave. I can say this because for two glorious years during primary school, I was a gymnast. Given my acute sense of self preservation this was a pretty ambitious choice of sports. I don’t like going fast. I don’t like being up high. Predictably, my best apparatus was floor and on the floor, I specialised in the dance elements that help you transition between tumbling lines; things like arm waving, finger flicking and saluting the judges. In addition to avoiding potential injury at all times, I had the peculiar impairment of being so tone deaf, I couldn’t actually discern when the routine was meant to start and instead relied on my coach clapping when I need to begin. Suffice to say when a gymnast falls short of the score they’re after, when they score less than a perfect 10, I understand what they’re going through.
4. Equestrian. As a seasoned trail rider, I’ve known my fair share of wayward horses. Because when ‘Nugget’ or ‘Whisky’ decided that they Were. Not. Trotting. no amount of coaxing was going to turn that around. ‘Giddy-up!’, I’d yell hopefully, while the tired, worn Clydesdale plodded forth. ‘Stop eating grass!’, I’d implore, to no avail. When a commentator advises that a ‘horse is on the wrong leg’ or ‘Ooh, she’s running out of time’, I can relate. My advice: Aim the horse in the direction of the homestead and/or food, if won’t get it moving, nothing will.
Obviously, we’re all special little snowflakes. But the special little snowflakes bound for the Olympic Games are those that live by the creed: ‘Higher, Faster, Stronger’; not their risk-averse ‘Not too high’, ‘Slow down!, and ‘A Little Bit Weak’ cousins.
All of which is why this special little snowflake will spend London 2012 bucking for gold in enthusiasm.
Katherine Collette is a social researcher and oral historian. She founded the history and research organisation as told to… which documents stories of projects, people, events and places in fun and novel ways. Check out her blog: my mini manifesto.