During the last few days, my overriding feeling about the Olympics was one of not wanting it to end, partly because I’ve enjoyed it so much and partly because I fear the vacuum that comes after it. I’ve been wrapped in a bubble of Olympicness for a couple of weeks even as a spectator. I’m going to miss it but, like when the Tour de France ends, you find a way of coping without the highlights, it just takes time to adjust, right? However, the conclusion of the games will be viewed very differently by the athletes.
My first experience of competing at an international event was the World Transplant Games in 1999. It was a surreal experience to be wearing a navy blue blazer with a GB badge on it, parading as part of a 100 strong team into Heroes’ Square in Budapest surrounded by 2000 others from 50 countries. Even before that, people were stopping us at the airport interested to find out what we were up to, proffering good luck messages and shaking our hands. This was the start of my journey into my first ‘games bubble’.
In the bubble, you’re part of a paramilitary style clique, in uniform and inwardly focused towards a central core of competition with your backs to the outside world. The wagons are circled and the defences are impenetrable. Even family members and supporters travelling with the team can find themselves uncomfortable and excluded.
You compete. You win and you lose. Win and you receive the plaudits of your team, the manager, coaches, friends and supporters. Lose, and you get consolation, support and a warm arm around the shoulder from the same people, all safely within the protective bubble.
When the games are over and you’ve walk back through the front door, dropped your bags and taken the tracksuit off, the bubble well and truly bursts. It dawns very quickly this afternoon will not be frothy coffee in a café with team mates but washing clothes, opening 2 weeks’ worth of bills and getting ready to go back to work. Surely after all the training, the competition and the little metal symbol of your success things will be, well, better? You know, different? Maybe, a little, but you’re out of the bubble and back into the real world with a bump.
For those Olympians who haven’t got on a podium the transition back to real life is going to be hard. For those who’ve won in non-mainstream sports it may be even harder because the momentary recognition will fade rapidly and the come down will be even harder. Perhaps, for the guys who have won gold and achieved their life’s ambition it will be hardest of all, but the dangers of winning things is another topic in its own right. Whatever the results, reality is no longer suspended and it’s back to the mundane.
Thankfully, there is a cure for post games blues – it’s tough medicine, it takes time and it has side effects but it’s this: put the medal on the wall in the downstairs toilet, put the washing away and write down your next target. Then, get the bike, trainers, racquet, horse or whatever out and start preparing for entry into the next wonderful addictive bubble…
…Rich Smith is the author of ReCycled now available in paperback via Amazon and the Cycling Weekly bookshop…