Spare a thought for our athletes’ sacrifices

In her second exclusive column for The Mixed Zone, Goldie Sayers makes an impassioned plea on behalf of the athletes competing out in Rio: remember their efforts in just reaching the Games, and don’t criticise indiscriminately when they don’t meet your expectations. Sayers knows what it’s like: she’s been there and done it in the javelin at three Olympics – and has the bronze medal to prove it

The Olympics are now well under way. It’s been really interesting for me sitting on the other side of the fence (or, more literally, the sofa) and being a watching sports fan for the first time since 2000. As a competing athlete you miss the majority of the coverage because you are so focused on your own preparation; you often need to switch off from the competition going on around you. So it’s a real pleasure to not only stay up and watch every sport, but also cheer on my past team-mates who are giving it their all for Team GB.

Being in the ‘Olympic bubble’ as an athlete, it is easy to forget that the coverage back home is often little more than entertainment packaged together in a 30-second clip on Twitter or the BBC Sport website. What is so often forgotten by the viewing public are the four years of dedication, sacrifice, training, failure, success and hard work that goes into that 30-second performance in an Olympic pool, velodrome, track or pitch, whatever the result.

I watched the men’s diving with some of my family who were making sweeping judgments about how good or bad a dive was (now that they are experts having watched it once last week!). I immediately reminded them, as they sat eating their TV dinner, that if one of them got up on to a 10-metre platform they would walk straight back down again!

We have been so successful in recent Games that Olympic medals have become normalised and even expected. We have forgotten how tough the process is to even get to an Olympic Games, let alone win a medal. I’ve been really frustrated at how many times I have heard a commentator use the word ‘fail’ or ‘disappointed’ or ‘missing out on a medal’. Yes, we invest heavily in sport in this country, and the athletes have to prove their worth (despite some of them living off savings to be in Rio). But often achieving a fifth place finish is a personal best for that particular athlete. Tonia Couch and Lois Toulson (aged just 16) in the diving come to mind. Yes, they could have won a medal if a couple of other teams slipped up, but to achieve a personal best in a highly pressurised situation is the equivalent of winning a medal in my opinion. Next time I have no doubt they will go two or even four places better.

When you watch a sport like diving, which is very similar to my own event (javelin) in terms of technicality, flow, focus and mental control, just remember that these phenomenal athletes have trained for up to six hours a day, six days a week for 50 weeks of the year. That’s more than 7,000 hours of highly focused training. And from that foundation they have to perform at their best, under intense pressure, for perhaps 30 seconds their participation in the competition takes. Well, that’s not just bonkers, but superhuman. These incredible beings need to be applauded and celebrated for putting themselves in an Olympic environment, with the British flag on their chest, whether they come first or 21st.


Goldie Sayers, is a three-time Olympian, World and European Championship finalist and UK Javelin Champion for the past ten years. Goldie’s latest articles

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