What an incredible two weeks we had! Before the Olympics I thought I would be sad when it was all over but, somehow, the whole experience surpassed even my ridiculously high expectations by a mile so there’s no way I can feel sad when I look back. I have never had such an emotional time of extreme highs and lows but I have many happy memories and stories to tell…
I shall have to start from the very beginning…
We arrived in the Athlete Village from Manchester only a few hours before the Opening Ceremony was due to start so it was a manic rush checking everything through the airport style security, getting our accreditations and finding out where we would be living. The volunteers were amazing, helping us all the way, even carrying all our luggage up to our rooms!
All of Team GB were in one apartment block overlooking the Olympic Park. Our team was split into two different accommodations, eight of us in a three storey town house and five in an apartment above. My bedroom was in the town house on the first floor overlooking the Olympic Stadium – not a bad view to wake up to every morning! Our rooms were full of goodies: drink bottles, snacks, a teddy bear, swimming costumes, toiletries, bath robes, books, shrugs and lots more, all of which we could take when we left… including the Olympic-themed duvet!
We dumped our stuff and changed into our Opening Ceremony outfits which we thought were interesting, but as soon as the whole Team GB came together they looked amazing! We walked en masse from the Olympic Village to the stadium. It took almost two hours as we were moving very slowly behind the other countries, but there was music playing and kids lining the walkway asking for photographs, signatures and chanting ‘GB’ the whole way. One of my favourite memories of the whole Olympics was waiting in the tunnel to come out into the stadium. The atmosphere was electric as we could hear the crowd roaring and we were all jumping up and down with anticipation and excitement! We were supposed to stay in lines of ten to walk out, wave to the Queen and then we could take pictures and do what we liked. But because Waterpolo was right at the back, as soon as it was our turn we all just came running out! Dancing around the track, confetti falling from the sky with 80,000 people cheering for us is something I will never forget.
I won’t describe the actual ceremony because I’m sure your view from the TV was a lot better, but we had a wonderful time, dancing in the middle of the stadium and all the way back to the village. It was hard to get to sleep that night.
Life in the Athlete Village was incredible and I could have lived there forever! Everyone was so friendly and we all had something in common so it was easy to get chatting to people from all over the world. One of the great things was that everything in the Village was free! I went to the hairdresser, dentist and hygienist without paying a thing. You could see a doctor without waiting and there was no charge for any medication you might need. There was a non-alcoholic bar and vending machines and food stalls dotted around everywhere and you just took what you liked!
The best way to eat though, was in the 24h food court. It was HUGE! You couldn’t see from one side to the other when you walked in. To cater for people from all over the world there was every type of food imaginable; Best of British, Mediterranean, Caribbean, European, American, Asian, and even a free Mcdonalds, which we didn’t touch till after we’d finished competing (although I was surprised by how many athletes were eating it every day!). I always had such difficulty at meals times becuase no matter how hard I looked, every time I returned to our table someone else had something better than me! The menu changed daily and throughout the day so you could never get bored of the food, and it was delicious.
The food hall was one of the best places for celeb spotting too. For the first few days we were a bit star-struck, living and socialising with some of the world’s top athletes. It soon became normal though to have physio next to a premiership footballer or eat your lunch next to a top tennis player. On our second day an incredibly special guest come into the Village to visit us, The Queen. She arrived in the middle of the day so many Team GB athletes were training away from the Village. She came with Prince Andrew and Princess Anne. A few girls from our team were selected to meet the Queen formally but we all greeted the royal party in the courtyard at the back of our Team GB block. Princess Anne spoke to me personally and I tried my absolute best to put on a nice English accent (I still haven’t lost my kiwi twang from growing up in New Zealand!). We also had a few other high profile visitors during the two weeks in the village: David Cameron was very friendly, chatting to us in our back yard one day. However I was gutted that I was out when Prince William, Kate and Prince Harry came into our block. Some of the girls were around and got to meet them all personally and Rosie was just in her underwear in the physio area when Kate came in and started chatting to her! Chloe was in the same situation a couple of days later when Sir Clive Woodward came in and shook her hand!
After the first few days of meeting everyone for the first time and exploring the Village we soon settled into the routine of training and competing. On match days we would have an easy training session in the morning at the competition pool and on rest days we would train twice, for an hour, in the morning and evening. There were a couple of pools dotted around London that we would be driven to on the rest days or if we were lucky we would train in the onsite swimming complex in Eton Manor. This was an incredible indoor temporary facility with three 50m swimming pools, a synchro pool, a waterpolo pool and a poolside gym! It’s such a shame this was not a permanent facility as I know London is in desperate need of more 50m pools.
Our competition started on Monday 30th July against the Russians. We went into every game with the attitude that we were not going to lose. The years of training, the 6am wake up calls in the rain and snow, surviving all of Szilvester’s torrents… they were all for these two weeks. Although we were ranked 8th we believed we had enough experience and passion behind us to surprise everyone and make our Olympic dream come true. For this reason it is still painful even now, almost two months later, to think back and write about these games. This is what I meant earlier about a rollercoaster of emotions because we would go from great experiences like meeting the Queen to losing the opening game by one goal… one goal! The first week of competition continued like this… the highs of meeting our families for the first time, showing them around, discovering something new in The Village, to underperforming against the Australians and having another painfully close defeat by the Italians. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we were distracted, unfocused or not ready in any way, I think it was all just part of the whole Olympic experience.
Despite the three loses in our opening round we actually ended up going into the Quarter Final match exactly where we wanted to be, and about to face the Spanish. The Spanish had a great first round, were on form and had won their pool yet this was the team we knew 100% that we could beat. Unlike some of the other ‘bigger’ teams, they were small and fast like us, and played a similar game. We had trained against them a lot in the build-up to the Olympics and we had been evenly matched throughout which gave us the confidence we needed. We had all known for years that this one match, the quarter final at the Olympic Games, was the most important game we would ever play.
In the changing room before the game Fran, our captain, gave the a rousing speech. As we emerged to the deafening cheers of the GB home crowd there was no way we were going to come out of that pool defeated. I have heard athletes talking about taking it to another level for important contests, almost going into an ‘animal like’ state and this is practically how I felt. For the whole hour we were battling it out I didn’t notice the crowd or the cameras or Szilvester yelling. Were all 100% committed to what we had to do so when the final whistle blew and realisation hit that we had lost in the last minute of the game, we were absolutely distraught. That the goal that we had trained towards for years and years had been shattered in just a matter of minutes was heartbreaking – the only word I can think of that describes how we all felt in the hours afterwards. There were a lot of tears shed that night.
We were given the next day off to recover both physically and emotionally which we all desperately needed. Two days later we were feeling refreshed and ready to face our old rivals, the Russians. We had lost against them by one goal three times in the last six months. Unfortunately we couldn’t continue this trend, losing to them by two goals this time in another really upsetting match. We tried really hard to pick ourselves up for the last game against the Italians as this was probably the last game our team would ever play together. The Italians’ experience and strength proved too strong for us though and we bowed out of the Olympics with an 11-7 loss.
After every game we would go out to the front of the pool to chat to all our supporters, I would always walk out really upset at the loss but everyone was constantly so positive. It was frustrating being congratulated on how well we had done while feeling deeply disappointed inside, but it eventually always made a smile return to my face.
That smile stayed on my face for the whole last four days of my Olympic experience. We definitely made the most of what the Village had to offer, eating as much McDonalds as we liked, getting our hair and makeup done in the salon on numerous occasions, and socialising with the other athletes who had finished competing. I don’t think I actually paid for a thing on those last few days, even when we travelled out of the Village. At night the clubs we went to let us skip the queue or cover charge, and there would be free drinks and nibbles for us everywhere we went. One of my favourite memories is going to the concert in Hyde Park the night before the Closing Ceremony. There was a special area exclusively for Team GB athletes and supporters but we (waterpolo and a few other Team GB athletes that were there) were invited on-stage and were presented to the 50,000-strong crowd. People were cheering and waving GB flags for as far as I could see! It was also Beckie’s birthday that day and the host got the whole audience to sing Happy Birthday to her! It was such a fantastic night.
The festivities continued on to the next night too. The Closing Ceremony was so much fun. All the countries walked over to the stadium as one this time and again the atmosphere was electric as we waited to run down the steps though the crowd towards the centre of the stadium. It was great to have a front row view as some of our favourite acts performed. When we got back to the Village the BOA had laid on a party in the BBQ area for all the Team GB athletes. I think most of us were still there when the sun started to rise the following morning!
Next day buses had been organised to take all the athletes back to whichever corner of GB they came from. It was quite funny seeing bleary-eyed people virtually crawling out of their rooms and onto the buses. I ended up getting a very nice chauffeur-driven BMW from the Village right to my doorstep in Islington and the Volunteer even insisted on carrying my excessive luggage into the house for me. My Olympic experience started and finished with one of the many thousands of incredible volunteers going the extra mile to help out.
The next few weeks passed very quickly. I went on holiday with my New Zealand family who had flown over to support me. We had a much deserved team holiday at a villa in Portugal and even a quick trip to Ibiza too. But we all came back together one last time, with the Paralympians also, as ‘One Team GB’ for what was probably the best day of my life… the Athletes Parade.
We all met on the morning of the parade at The Guildhall in central London and were given a lovely breakfast. We were then slowly taken out, sport by sport in alphabetical order, onto our floats. As Waterpolo we were on the very last float. The following two hours were absolutely unbelievable! We travelled at a walking pace and as far as the eye could see in all directions there were people cheering and waving. People had climbed rooftops, lamp posts, phone boxes, they were hanging out of windows and sitting on top of trucks, it was incredible! It was really nice to read all the messages of support on everyone’s posters, they were all yelling ‘well done’ and ‘thank you’ but I just wanted to yell ‘thank you’ straight back because the support we had was overwhelming!
We came to the end of the journey in front of Buckingham Palace where all of Team GB gathered on the steps together for the final display. That is another amazing memory I have, standing there looking down The Mall and for as far as I could see there were people cheering and waving GB flags. This wasn’t the end of the day for us however.
Straight afterwards we headed to a function centre close by for one last party! Again lovely food and alcohol were all put on for us and ‘One Team GB’ partied together for the last time. It was a perfect day to finish what had been an incredible Olympic experience!
And that is my story.
For the past 18 months I have been writing this blog as a record of how we’ve been doing and I am so glad I did. I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone who supported us throughout our journey. To all the friends and family who travelled from far away, including my grandparents who are both in their 90s and couldn’t travel to the games but are great supporters, thank you. And of course a special thank you to all the Penguin players and the Club for the continuous support over the last five years. At the moment I am enjoying the relaxed lifestyle of playing for Mataro (a club on the outskirts of Barcelona) in the Spanish League, where ‘morning’ training doesn’t start till 1pm, but I am already looking forward to coming back to London next year and playing with the mighty Penguins again! Until then…