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London 2012 – Part Three

by Sarah Storey
Sarah Storey
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on Oct 06 in Race Blog
As an athlete the period in the run up to and during the Games is the familiar part you operate in for so long. Living and breathing cycling, making sure that every base is covered, making sure that no stone is left unturned so that on race day there can be no doubts that all there is left to do is race to the very best you can.

For me the build up to London 2012 was meticulously planned. My team around me had been incredible in their support and the For VioRed racing team couldn’t have worked harder in getting me into the best possible shape for road racing. Of course that planning and structure is the safest place to exist, in the zone of control and familiarity. Once the competition is over though, the familiar routine vanishes into a haze of emotion, excitement and celebration!

The chance to celebrate, thank people and share your experience of winning Gold at a Home Games becomes the new obsession and there is nothing that prepares you for the whirlwind that I have been so lucky to enjoy since finishing racing. Whilst living in the athlete bubble you have no idea of the reception that will greet you in the outside world, but when I started the whirlwind of media activity and interviews on the morning after winning my 4th Gold in London, I started to realise that London had been even more special than we could ever have imagined.

After a round of media appointments I made my first appearance at Deloitte House and being welcomed on to their impressive roof terrace to the Stone Roses “This Is The One” was quite overwhelming but I couldn’t have imagined a more appropriate setting for my first public appearance, overlooking the Olympic Park and wearing all four medals at once! When people started spotting me from the street below and yelling my name I had to pinch myself to see if I was dreaming some ego inflated dream! The excitement from people meeting me and spotting me from the roof was surreal and I started to wonder what had been going on whilst we were head down and in race mode!

The very same evening I was able to head into my old stomping ground of the Aquatic Centre and walking through the athlete zone to the stands was an emotional trip back to my previous life. I loved being able to watch the action, soak up the atmosphere in the Aquatic Centre and wonder how it is possible that those guys can swim so fast these days!

After a brief visit to be a part of the presentation team who were warming up the crowd before the action in the Olympic Stadium on the final evening of competition, Barney and I sat back to reflect on the fact we were approaching our final full day inside the Paralympic Village. The last time either of us had attended a Ceremony was the Closing Ceremony in Athens, so we were excited to be a part of the team that would march into the London Olympic Stadium to say good bye to the best Games we had been fortunate to be a part of.

I honestly hadn’t thought my experience could get any better but then I was told I had been chosen to carry the flag, alongside fellow quadruple Gold Medallist David Weir, at the Closing Ceremony! It was an emotional moment, and announced in front of a packed reception at Paralympics GB House. The gathering had been to celebrate the Gold Medallists in the team and we were treated to an appearance and song from Tony Hadley, who obviously sang “Gold” to us! I couldn’t have asked for a better closing to the Games and when we stepped out into the stadium that evening it was one of the proudest times of my life.

The excitement continued the following day with the Team Parade and it couldn’t have been more emotional than seeing the 100’s of 1000’s of people who were lining the streets to congratulate us. Meeting up with the Olympic Team and being able to congratulate them for the first time on their inspirational success was just the start of a day that got better and better.

I was part of float 7 with Barney one float ahead on float 6, so obviously we spent much of the day waving at each other madly whenever we caught the other one’s eye! The size of the crowd compared to our parade after Beijing was incomparable and there were some fantastic messages being held up throughout the crowd by people trying to catch the attention of their favourite athletes. From marriage proposals to phone numbers and people telling us how proud they are, the signs were everywhere and at times the noise was deafening!

Trafalgar Square had been the finishing point for the parade after Beijing and I had thought we were stopping there again, but then we arrived there to the biggest crowd of anywhere I soon realised the amazing tour was continuing and we would get to enjoy it for even longer. There was a commentator at Trafalgar Square telling the crowd who was in each float and when Barney and I came into view he announced that we were the most successful family at the Games and that if we had been a nation we would have been 24th in the medal table, with 5 Gold and 1 Silver. He also mentioned we would have been ahead of Canada in the medal table, an interesting thought, especially when you remember that Canada House is based right there at Trafalgar Square!

Finishing outside Buckingham Palace, being interviewed alongside Sir Chris Hoy and completing the celebrations in front of friends, family, volunteers and officials from the Games, we were treated to a fly past and the party atmosphere continued as everyone made their way to the Prime Ministers reception just a short walk away.

Since finishing the parade, leaving the Village and reacquainting ourselves with the cat at home, we have been most frequently asked about how we have coped with coming down to earth and whether we have landed with a bump yet or not. In all honesty I don’t think we have hit the floor yet! Life without training has been even busier than I could have ever imagined. Knowing that London 2012 touched the lives of so many people makes it even more of an honour to have been a part of.

When I came home from Atlanta in 1996 with 3 Gold, 1 Silver and 1 Bronze, within the sports world I was labelled as the most successful athlete for Great Britain at the Paralympics, but the reception from the wider population was quite different to the way it has been this time. It wasn’t that no one cared, it is just that no one knew! I went to University and didn’t tell anyone what I had done during the summer, it wasn’t until a few people spotted me on “Noel’s House Party” a few weeks later, that anyone outside of sport had an idea! Since the London Games I have been stopped in the street, approached on trains and in airports and told how proud people are to have watched me race!

It is truly unbelievable and really so amazing to hear when other people tell me about their own experiences of my events. So many families who tell me about their weekend cycling activities and 100’s of proud parents tell me their kids will not believe that they have met me, so have to have their photograph taken! On a recent trip to a primary school, the look on the faces of the children when we walked into assembly was priceless and when six children in a row asked the same question because they were so overwhelmed by our presence, it started to sink in about what it meant to them.

I was six years old when the Olympics first caught my imagination and I have spent my whole life following that ambition and hope to be able to continue to follow this amazing path for a few more years to come.

The Games motto was “Inspire A Generation”, which couldn’t be more appropriate, however in our whistle stop tour of as many places as possible since the Games ended, I think it is fair to say that “A Generation” doesn’t necessarily refer to the youngest generation. Every generation I have met has been so excited to meet both Barney and I and see our medals. We have had photographs with young and old, signed pictures, books, t-shirts, stamps, newspaper articles and Games event tickets. We have answered questions and shared stories, we have listened to the excited stories of others telling us what the Games meant to them and we have been overwhelmed by cards, flowers and gifts. This Games has been the best ever because everyone has been involved, everyone has shared it together and we will be able to continue to talk about how great it is for years and years to come.

Thank you to everyone who played a part, without each and every one of you, we could not have done cycled so fast and our team mates in other sports could not have produced their best either. Being part of the Greatest Team Parade was such a fitting end to the excitement of the Games but for me I think it will be Lord Coe’s words in that Olympic stadium that I will always remember…

“We will be able to say; when our time came, we did it right.”

I couldn’t agree more.

 

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