I woke up excited and finished every day elated

I’m about to land at Heathrow having slept for about three hours of the eleven-hour flight. I know I’ll suffer for it later but at least now I’ve got time in my hands. No alarm call tomorrow morning, no devouring of a newsletter and a preview of the day’s action written by our brilliant BBC team of subs, no saying hello to the gymnastics team and the swimming team at breakfast while asking them for more info, no shared bus to the IBC, no more queuing for the security scanners or drinking dodgy tea.

And no more mornings spent writing scripts and searching for interesting stories on medallists I’m going to interview, no more make-up or decisions on which outfit I can get away with wearing again (I under-clubbed on the clothes front), no more rapid walk into the park to find good old Mat, my floor manager and our team. No more panic about whether or not the wifi is working, rushed logging-in to the BBC system and checking of talkback. No more trolley and no more Olympics.

I will miss it. I think it’s fairly clear that I love immersing myself in multi-sports events. It’s like taking a five-hour exam every day in your favourite subject. I enjoy the concentration, the pressure, the adrenalin rush of watching a race or a match or a routine and I desperately want Team GB ‘s athletes to do as well as they can do.

I felt sick when we were searching for the equaliser in the hockey, which I’m sure was the same for many people back home, and then strangely calm about the penalty shoot-out because I’d interviewed Maddie Hinch before she came out to Rio and I knew how confident she would be. I tried as hard as Nick Skelton not to cry during his medal ceremony and I gasped in awe of Max Whitlock and Simone Biles at the gymnastics.

You never know when an away Games starts whether or not the UK audience will embrace it, but pretty soon we all became aware that the conversations back home were about the Olympics and that, for a brief fortnight, neither politics nor football would dominate the news. I woke up every morning in a state of expectation and excitement and finished every day elated – while constantly being annoyed with myself for one mistake or another, which is always going to happen on live TV.

As well as the sport, which was amazing, I loved meeting so many of the medallists. I was chuffed the hockey team came to the park the next day for an interview, even if some of them felt a bit worse for wear. Between them and the 4x100m women’s relay team, whose love of their sport and of each other was so evident, an appreciation of team spirit will have reached a whole generation of British girls.

From 16-year-old Amy Tinkler’s bronze medal arriving before her GCSE results to Katherine Grainger winning a medal for the fifth consecutive Games, women of all ages, all shapes and sizes shone. Helen Glover and Heather Stanning withstood the pressure of expectation, Laura Trott set new standards and joined the list of great British Olympians. Once again, Nicola Adams and Jade Jones showed that women can punch and kick with the best of them, and still smile at the end of it all.

For some, the Olympic experience is just beginning and for others, it is ending. To Kate Richardson-Walsh, Helen Richardson-Walsh, Crista Cullen, Katherine Grainger, Fran Houghton, Zoe de Toledo, Jess Ennis-Hill and a host of others we should say thank you for setting the example that others are so eagerly following. I can’t wait to see what Tokyo will bring, I know I’ll enjoy it just as much as I have done these last few weeks because sport always gives us stories that are fresh, unexpected and exciting.

Now, what to do with my days? I’ll probably get bored by Wednesday and start prepping for the Paralympics. I fly back out in two weeks to work for Channel 4, so the merry-go-round will begin again. Happy days.


This article was written by Clare Balding. Clare’s latest articles

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