Another Real Olympian

Friday, February 18, 2005

You think you know how much work and money go into the organisation of a country’s Olympic team – you inhale sharply when it is mentioned to indicate that you’re well aware of how expensive and time consuming it all is – but until you sit in a room and have it explained to you by someone who really does know, you haven’t a clue.

On Wednesday night, the University of Ulster’s Alumni Association hosted an evening in London at which the current deputy chief executive of the British Olympic Association, Dr Stephen Martin, gave a talk on how he and his team had gone about laying plans for Athens, and what they had done on the odd occasion when those plans went aglay.

I shouldn’t have been there really. I had a run-in with the University of Ulster once, but it was hardly enough to be considered an alumni. It was thanks to UU that I became a professional golfer. Having finished an economics degree in Scotland, I was provisionally enrolled on a post-grad accountancy course at the Jordanstown campus of UU. On registration day, I sat in the queue with lots of other people who had somehow been duped into thinking they wanted to pursue a career in accountancy.

When I arrived, I was already less than convinced that I was doing the right thing – half an hour in the queue surrounded by the living dead and my mind was pretty much made up. I got up and walked to the front of the line and handed the woman my form.

"I don’t want to register," I mumbled. "Sorry" I added, as though the woman might in some way have taken it personally.

"But… if you don’t register, you can’t do the course." No flies on her.

I’d love to say that I walked out of the building with my head held high and drove home to embark on a training regime set to inspiring music that culminated in me winning the Open, but actually I slunk away like a criminal and drove home very slowly wondering how exactly I was going to explain myself to my parents.

As I headed from the frying pan back to the fire, it occurred to me that moments like those – truly defining moments when you decide to swim against the tide of what’s happening to you, or even climb out of the water altogether – don’t come along very often. At the time, that wasn’t much comfort, but looking back, I’m glad I did it. I would have been a terrible accountant.

Ultimately though, that queue for registration was as close as I got to having any claim to membership of the UU alumni association, but I have friends (or my dad has) in high places, so I blagged a couple of tickets.

Stephen Martin played hockey for the same club as I did when I was at school in Northern Ireland. He played for the firsts, so I made sure not to upstage him by relegating myself to the fourths. When he wasn’t busy playing for the mighty Holywood team, he also played for Great Britain, on the team that won a bronze medal in Los Angeles, a gold medal in Seoul (“Where were the Germans… but frankly, who cares?”), and finished 6th in Barcelona.

His talk was very informative and full of little gems of information, which he managed to convey very well despite the constant heckling of a disgruntled Londoner who didn't want the games to be hosted anywhere near her house. I e-mailed him today to see if I can access his presentation anywhere online. He replied very quickly to say that his PA would mail me a copy on CD. When I get it, I’ll post a précis.

The highlight of the evening for me came when he announced that he had two books to give away – a copy of the Team Handbook and a copy of the Official Olympic Report from Athens 2004 – to the first person to answer a couple of questions. The first question had been answered before I’d processed it and the Team Handbook was gone.

The second question was "Where will the next winter games be held?"

I knew the answer straight away (largely thanks to a T-shirt John van de Poll likes wearing), but, before I could open my mouth, the heckler struck up again and bellowed "Toronto!"

"No – Torino!" I smugly said, hand already out for the prize. It might be my imagination, but I’m fairly sure Stephen Martin was glad that I (and not the raging mouthpiece beside me) was taking the book home. It’s a great book. If you want a copy, you can buy one here.

Many thanks to Timo for coming along with me and to Stephen Martin for giving the talk and answering questions – yet another Olympic legend who seems to also be a thoroughly bloody nice chap!


Anonymous said...

wasn't he the really hard core hockey player that never wore any shin pads when playing hockey?!

playing my first match since last yr on sunday!!


John said...

That sounds about right - he certainly never shied away from a bit of contact.

Good luck tomorrow!