Sunday, August 12, 2012

2,489: The Secret Olympian by Anon

Well it's nearly over.  We are just a few hours away from the closing ceremony of the London Olympics.  As I write, the last of the 304 gold medals has just been won and soon the Olympic baton will have been handed on to Rio, which will, I am sure, do a wonderful job in 2016 and take the Games to even greater heights.  London 2012 has been fantastic, an eye-opening experience for even the most jaded Londoners and I’m sure that somewhere out there, a future generation of Olympians has been inspired.  I’m also sure that I’m not one of them and not just because I’m old, untalented and slothful.

My overriding impression having finished The Secret Olympian is that being an Olympic athlete and even a medallist may well not be all it’s cracked up to be.  What Anon, the unnamed member of the British team at the Athens Games of 2004, does is to give us an incredible insight into the life and  mind of an elite level  athlete in an Olympic sport.  And it’s not all that pretty.

The picture he (and it is clear from the text that he is male - without wanting to rain on his parade, I strongly suspect he was a member of the 2004 rowing squad) draws is one of monkish self-discipline, impecuniousness, the paradox of superb physical specimens being highly susceptible to illness, the stress of selection, the self-doubt and the constant fear that a loss of form or a minor niggle can cost you your place on the team.  It comes as little surprise that, for many Olympians, the first reaction on being selected is one of relief and not joy.

Even the Olympic Village, portrayed recently as Party Central, is not what it seems.  All of the partying appears to be as much a temporary escape from reality as anything and, according to Anon, for all but the lucky few who win a medal, it becomes a place for soul-searching and regrets.  And for the prurient amongst us, he demolishes the urban myth of the village being filled with athletes fornicating like rabbits for it appears that the huge numbers of condoms provided to the athletes are actually collected in bulk by athletes from certain countries for resale when they get home.

The Secret Olympian is also a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of an Olympics, from selection, through the fun of the kitting out day, to the experience of competition and dealing with the aftermath, whether win or lose.  Anon dispels some common assumptions, such as the concept that Olympians are all sporting prodigies - indeed, many Olympic athletes were actually pretty useless at the sports they first played at school and almost accidentally fall into the sports that will bring them success.  There is also some pouring of cold water on the idea that a gold medal will lead to wealth and fame.  Save for the all-tine greats, even a gold medalist has a four year window of opportunity to capitalise on their success before a new crop of medalists come along with a new set of backstories and a fresher set of faces.

If you have been, like me, captivated by the events of the last 16 days or, if you are at least a little but interested in sport, this will be an enjoyable read.  It only reinforces the fact that I could never have been a high level sportsman but gives an idea of what it is like to be one.  It's not always a pretty view but, nevertheless, I'll still dream of being on that podium.


Mrs. Smith said...
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Bellezza said...

I could never be a high level sports person, either. Nor, I suspect, a low level one. Nope, for me it's turning pages or cycling, and then we arrive at the end of atheletic prowess. :)

Still, this book looks interesting. Another one I have, which deals with the Olympics, is Chris Cleeve's newest, Gold. Haven't it read it yet, though. Perhaps by 2016?

Unknown said...

Oooh, this sounds really interesting! I have paid minimal attention to the Olympics (just not into watching sports) but have read with interest the many comments in the press about how Olympians are great role models and should be inspiring a generation of children to follow in their footsteps. I don't think I would be that happy for a child of mine to become an Olympian! It's such a gruelling and intense lifestyle. I'd definitely like to give this a read.


Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

I've been hooked and just wish I had access to the 20+ BBC channels. I was wondering what was the experience like from an athletes POV. Thanks for flagging!