All in all if I said the whole Rio experience was beyond brilliant it would be an understatement. I know it sounds cheesy and far fetched but it was everything I had dreamed it would be and then about 100 times more. It truly blew my mind!
I had left my training base up in Font Romeu under a bit of a dark cloud having taken a tumble and spent a stressful 48 hours getting checked out. Thankfully everything was OK. My knee was a bit sore from bashing it but a day or two of rest and an aqua run session and I was back in the game. I knew I was in very good shape and all the rest of my preparations had gone very well.so an extra day or two of rest at this point would do no harm.
I always said that once I got to Heathrow to fly to Brazil that everything would hit me and it would all feel real. However, checking in for our flight behind Chris Froome and having Andy Murray and Princess Anne on my flight just made the whole thing seem even more surreal than ever!!
The holding camp at Belo Horizonte was great. It was a BOA camp so we were staying with some of the other sports though because of the competition schedules it was largely athletics that was there whilst I was there. We had our own opening ceremony party in the town where we got to wear our lovely Stella McCartney outfits and watch the ceremony on a big screen in an auditorium. The cheer which went up as GB matched on was incredible.
I moved down to Rio on the Thursday before my race. Walking into the village sent shivers down my spine. I kind of knew what to expect from staying in the village at Glasgow Commonwealth Games but this was so much more. Block after block of apartments all decked out in each teams colours. GB had a whole block to themselves and all the balconies had Union Jacks on them. The garden area outside had been decked out with artificial grass, pool table, table football and Union Jack deckchairs with large screen TV to watch BBC coverage of the games. The entrance had a giant TEAM GB rug and there was special TEAM GB Brompton bikes for us to use to get around the village. We had use of shared swimming pools which became very popular as people finished their competitions.
The food hall – the one thing that everyone asks about! – was HUGE and catered for all types of tastebuds, apart from cake, they didn’t do good cake!!! It was open 24/7 and despite catering for 11,000 athletes it never felt crowded and you could always find a seat with ease. The food was good but pretty bland which is what you need before competing but it wasn’t the best once you had finished and were looking for some good old pig out food. Luckily there was a free McDonalds in the village plaza to help with this. This was one of the things that I had been looking forward to! I’m not one to eat McDonald’s normally, I maybe have one a year. But you hear the stories of all the different athletes eating the free McDonalds at the Olympic Games and you feel that you need to take part just as part of the whole Olympic experience. Great marketing from McDonalds as thousands of athletes hit social media with photos of them tucking into McDonald feasts!! The only problem was that it was only open 9am – 9pm and as people completed their competitions the queues got bigger and bigger. Some days they were up to 3 hours long!! I didn’t want free McDonalds THAT much!!After my race I managed to enjoy the rest of the games experience. I got around to see a few different sports. I went to the velodrome for the last night of the cycling and saw Team GB win a few medals, I watched a few games of tennis and I went along to watch the hockey girls make the final. I also helped with the feed stations for the men’s marathon, no better way to get a ringside seat than stand in the pouring rain and hand out bottles to our guys!!
I also visited a few of the hospitality houses, the best of which was Beats. We were really lucky to get on the guest list for this one as it was VERY popular, but luckily we made it. The house was AMAZING and we had a great chilled out afternoon and of course came away with our lovely free Union Jack Beats headphones!!
MyMam and Dad had made a late decision to come out. My Dad had always looked into coming over but finances were a big stumbling block. My Mam on the other hand had always said she was too scared to travel to the other side of the world and didn’t like the horror stories she had heard.
In the end they were very lucky to be given 4 nights free hotel accommodation from Proctor and Gamble which really eased the financial burden. It meant that both of them could come over more or less for the price my Dad was going to pay for just him.
Once they got there they absolutely loved it. They were shouting with such pride every time I raced past. The last time I went past them my Mam shouted that she was so proud of me. I could hear her voice crack as she said it and I had to fight really hard to keep my own emotions under control because of it. Last thing I wanted with about 12km to go was to be bursting out in tears!!
I finally got to do some touristy stuff on the final Saturday when I went up to see Christ the Redeemer. You can’t go all the way to Rio and not see it! It was well worth the trip as the views from up the top were amazing! We had planned on doing Sugarloaf Mountain on the Monday morning before we left but when we woke up the weather was crap so we decided it wasn’t worth it plus it would have been pushing it to get back in time for our bus to the airport!!
The flight home was a perfect closing to the whole experience. We were travelling home on a special chartered BA flight – VictoRIOus – complete with gold nose cone. As with most other overnight long haul flights I’ve been on, I was expecting people to stay awake for some food and then get some sleep and not wake up until an hour or so before landing in Heathrow. This was completely different!!
We started the flight with a champagne toast from the Captain and the singing of the National Anthem. That kickstarted the party which went on until we hit a bit of turbulence and the seatbelt sign had to be switched on. I’ve never experienced a party flight like it. We managed to go through 77 bottles of champagne!!
The BOA really know how to do Olympics. When you know what goes on behind the scenes it’s no surprise that the team was the most successful for a long time and we were the first Nation to ever beat the medal tally of a previous home Games. Even though I didn’t add to that medal tally, I am still immensely proud to say that I was part of that team. I played my part in its success and hopefully I have inspired someone to follow their dreams the same way I did back in 1992 watching the Barcelona Games.
It took me nearly 25 years to finally reach that dream but I did make it and now I am an Olympian and no one can ever take that away from me. I will forever be proud of what I have achieved both in Rio and my journey getting there.
Of course the question everyone is now asking is what’s next? Tokyo 2020? Well I certainly have no plans to retire just yet but whether my body will let me go on for another 4 years in another thing. I would love to do the World Championships in London next year but apart from that it’s just a case of taking it a year at a time. As long as I am still performing and most importantly still enjoying it then I will go on for as long as the body will allow me.