A Real Olympian

Thursday, February 03, 2005


Ian Raspin - Canoe slalom legend and thoroughly bloody nice chap.

It’s all well and good for me to casually bandy about the word “Olympian” as though it in some way applies to me (when clearly it doesn’t, even slightly), but today I spoke to a real one: someone who participated in Barcelona in 1992 and again in Atlanta in 1996.

I’ve rubbed shoulders with the odd Olympian in my time. I’ve played hockey with Sean Kerly, Imran Sherwani, Stephen Martin and had a penalty stroke saved by Ian Taylor (they all came to the gala opening of a hockey club I used to play for).

I’ve fondled Sally Gunnell’s gold medal and asked her the kind of mind-numbingly dull and blindingly obvious questions that are now her stock and trade (“How did it feel to win the Olympic final?”… “Amazing!”… “Oh - you must have trained a lot.”… “Yes”).

When first I set about getting fitter to improve my golf many moons ago, I trained under the watchful eye and advice of Mary Peters at her gym in Northern Ireland. Only last year, I stood mere yards from some of the country’s top Olympians and Paralympians before gingerly holding more medals at lunch afterwards.

And yet, despite all this glamorous acclimatisation, and despite his very helpful, friendly and easy-going manner, it still felt strange to find myself having a phone conversation with Ian Raspin this afternoon.

In the Olympic canoe slalom, Ian finished 17th and 9th respectively in Barcelona and Atlanta. In 2000, he retired from competitive canoeing and took up coaching. From what I’ve read of him online and what I heard in his voice on the phone, he’s not a man to shirk a challenge, no matter how difficult it may be – which may go a long way to explaining why he has agreed to help me with the canoe and kayak slalom sections of my Olympic quest.

In assessing my existing capabilities, the first thing he wanted to know was whether or not I could swim. Encouraged that I could, he added “in fast moving water, upside down and wearing a helmet?” I’ll try anything once I suppose.

And so, thanks once again to Swiss Toni’s endless help, and in this instance his hospitality too, I hope to travel to Nottingham on 16th April to the National Water Sports Centre, to receive some coaching from an Olympic coach in an Olympic discipline.

It’s exciting, and it’s terrifying - apparently the odds against a complete novice completing the full 500 metres of a flat-water course in a Canadian canoe without falling in aren’t good, and the odds against that novice making it down an Olympic slalom course in one piece are verging on astronomical.

2 comments:

SwissToni said...

I'm sure the white water you go down will be somewhat less, er, white than the water pictured above.

Please tell me it will be.

Please?

Do I really have to do it with you? Couldn't I hold the camera or something?

ST

John said...

By all means, if you'd prefer to stand on the water's edge and film me making an idiot of myself, feel free to do so. I don't know what our Olympic mentor is expecting in terms of how many of us there will be, but he sounds the sort of guy that will do whatever he can to accommodate us. Or drown us.