So, I was inspired to write this article after the overwhelming response I got from fellow Olympians after seeing my mock 'Olympian dictionary definition’ on the First Season Back In Town piece.
The main thing that stood out to me was the fact it wasn’t all bobsledders who reached out, it was multiple sporting Olympians, summer and winter.
They also made other key points, namely that we’re - to quote the kids - 'poor af.'
This got me thinking about the realities of life chasing dreams in Olympic sport.
A bit like applying Preparation H to a hemorrhoid, life in Olympic sport can be painful on the whole. (Thank you)
If you’re not funded by your NGB (National Governing Body) or a government grant, you likely rely on private donor money or forcing yourself to plough through the mission that is mixing full-time work with training. Or a combination of those factors.
I’ve experienced all. None, in isolation, are particularly ideal.
Working full-time, then trying to train ‘full-time’ is a surefire way to achieve catastrophic burnout. I did. There are those who find a way to make it all work, and they have my eternal respect. I needed to go part-time in the end and in that fashion managed to get by.
Likewise, suckling at the teat of your NGB isn’t a particularly great option either. It’s certainly easier, but I think disables an athlete’s self-sufficiency and ‘get up and go’. It’s easy to train and then do literally nothing else because you know you have your funding coming in. The last week of the month might be a bit sticky but that’s cool, you just get your sandwiches from the petrol station rather than M&S (fancy British food store) for that week.
But that point about ‘getting by’ is something I’d like to briefly dwell on. I resent it. How is it that athletes representing their countries at the top of their game need to be content to ‘get by’?
Don’t get me wrong I get it, but whilst I accept it as an occupational hazard, I don’t accept it in the wider sense that I ever stop trying to get some sort of funding for myself or my teammates.
Well - hence me launching this platform.
Some countries are luckier than others (I’m looking at you my lovely German friends) and certainly GB, for a time, earned their way onto a handsome funding programme.
Due to myriad factors, this funding turned out to be a poisoned chalice. It certainly didn’t further the GB programme after its sensational 4-man bronze medal in Sochi.
Instead it was rife for mismanagement, what actually went on being above my paygrade, and in the end it was the athletes who paid the price.
We paid the price in all the stuff we’ve moaned about before, not having world class kit and struggling to pay for the season blah blah. But I actually think the main price we paid was not only being left with no money, it was being left without the education or support in place to empower us to find it for ourselves.
Luckily we had ambitious and proactive pilots like Mica McNeill, Lamin Deen and Brad Hall who got creative, crowd-funded and sourced themselves sponsors in the process. Lesser athletes wouldn’t have found their way back, and even though they’re pilots and I HATE them I will always respect this fortitude. They didn’t give up. Gold star guys.
I digress but I truly do believe that if you’re an athlete lucky enough to have a funding package from your NGB or government, don’t take it for granted, and don’t think that you’ve arrived if you get it.
It can be taken as quickly as it was given and if you haven’t set yourself up with anything extra, you leave yourself in a precarious position.
Personally, I’m hoping the BBSA implements some sort of mentoring and education programme with the developing and youth athletes coming through. Something that educates on things like: networking with nations on season, how to write sponsor letters, how to approach sponsors, what to offer, how freighting/shipping works, how to plan a season etc.
Empowerment begets empowerment and empowered athletes are a formidable force.
Again, don’t get me wrong, we don’t do this Olympic thing for the money. We couldn’t possibly, because it just doesn’t pay.
Plus, as the legendary Czech runner Emil Zatopek told us,
‘an athlete cannot run with money in his pockets. He must run with hope in his heart and dreams in his head.’
It is my firm belief he was paid by his NGB to say that.
I think where I get bothered by the whole ‘getting by’ thing is that our careers are such a snapshot in our lifetimes. It would be nice to be able to put a little bit aside to show some sort of remuneration for our sacrifice and efforts.
But on the other side of it, I do also believe that the struggle is all part of the glory at the end of it. It’s part of what makes just being selected for an Olympic Games so special.
Personally, in 2018 when I went to ‘kitting out’ at the Adidas HQ with my teammates, and stood in that amazing building being given that incredible kit, I wasn’t thinking about my bank account.
Actually that’s a lie, that weekend I had reversed the team van into a wall in a multi-storey car park I was inadvertently trespassing in, so had a rear window repair and trespassing fine to pay.
But besides that, I was just excited to put the kit in my car, get home and - tentatively - enjoy the moment. I say tentatively because you are not an Olympian until you take the field of play, and anything could have happened up to the point of the 4-man competition I was due to compete in.
Thankfully I did make the competition, as the subtle tattoo on my forearm tells the world.
This photo makes me feel pride and shame in equal measure