• Sally Pearson injured on the track (YouTube)Source: YouTube
Athletes who ‘didn’t make the cut’ into the Australian Olympic team didn’t fail. Often, they are so exceptional, precisely why their bodies failed them.
By
Jane Saville

Source:
Zela
12 Jul 2016 - 3:25 PM  UPDATED 12 Jul 2016 - 3:25 PM

With less than four weeks to go until Rio, the countdown is on for the biggest sporting event in the world. We’re on the brink of the opening ceremony, healthy competition and patriotic spectating, and excited for the flame to alight.

But spare a thought for a number of athletes who are probably counting down until the nightmare of Rio is over.

I’m talking about the injured athletes. Those who will not compete in Rio and not represent their country, despite having already qualified but had to withdraw. Or those who were chasing selection until their body fell ‘apart’.

... Spare a thought for a number of athletes who are probably counting down until the nightmare of Rio is over.

It’s possible that whilst sports fans will be salivating at the Aussie success stories during the Games, there may be times when many of these injured athletes actually hate the Olympics. Or alternatively, might just want to crawl under a rock and wait until it’s all over. I’ve known some injured athletes who have escaped to a tropical resort for the two weeks of the Games, just to getaway from it all. Their bodies that have been so reliable for so long, assisting them to the pinnacle of their sports have let them down and the hype of the Olympics is a huge reminder of their challenging situation.

The life of elite sport is a rollercoaster of highs and lows. However, at least in a roller coaster you can see the highs and lows and enjoy the ride. Sport, on the other hand, when you’re at the bottom, you’re not sure if and when there will be another high; another Green and Gold tracksuit or another medal. It’s hard to put what you’re going through into perspective.

Their bodies that have been so reliable for so long, assisting them to the pinnacle of their sports have let them down and the hype of the Olympics is a huge reminder of their challenging situation.

Olympic athletes only have the opportunity to show their wares at the pinnacle of their sport every four years (I will save the Golf and Tennis debate for another day). Timing is of the essence, and one small change or mistake can mean the end of years of planning and preparation.

In our sports mad country it’s very difficult to escape the buzz around the Olympics Games - so imagine being a successful elite athlete and missing it due to injury. Especially if you were a medallist 4 years earlier, in London 2012.

Sally Pearson’s torn tendon and subsequent withdrawal from Rio was devastating and ended a difficult year after her fall at the IAAF Rome Diamond League in 2015.

Pearson epitomises the fighting spirit that we Australians love to see in one of our own, as she was determined to prevail after returning from Europe in June to boost her training in preparation for Rio.

“Training has been intensely hard and I am exhausted from it but at this stage I have absolutely no other choice if I am going to be competitive in Rio,” she wrote in her blog. “I have just less than 9 weeks until I compete and I am going to do everything in my power to be the best athlete I can be while representing my country in the biggest sporting event in the world.”

"Why couldn't it have happened after the Olympics? I only needed seven weeks and three days or whatever to finish my races at the Olympics."

Unfortunately, her injury - severe torn hamstring - cost her a place at the games and made a statement in a media gathering,

"Why couldn't it have happened after the Olympics? I only needed seven weeks and three days or whatever to finish my races at the Olympics.

"But this is a thing that no-one can control. No matter who you are, you can't control what your body wants to do and unfortunately it just gave in.

"There was no awareness, no signs that this was going to happen. So that's probably the most frustrating thing.”

She is emotional in her highs and in her lows conveys the disappointment.

"There was no awareness, no signs that this was going to happen. So that's probably the most frustrating thing.”

Abby Bishop, a member of the Opals Bronze Medal winning team will not be in Rio either. Her story is long, and just like Sally, Bishop is a fighter and an extraordinary woman off the court.

In 2013, Bishop took custody of her unwell sister’s daughter, despite being living an already demanding life as professional athlete and being only 24 years old.

Bishop was suffering from a long-term hamstring injury earlier this year. She was given medication to aid its repair which had a side effects of blood clotting, and disturbingly ended up with a 24 cm clot in her arm, which could have been life threatening. She then had to take blood-thinning medication to counter the clotting, but this meant that she couldn’t do any contact sports. If she was knocked, it could have been fatal.

While she was still able to keep physically fit and practise shooting, Bishop couldn’t play any games so gaining selection for Rio was always going to be unlikely when you can’t even play during the lead up selection games. Abby wasn’t named when the Opals squad was cut to 15 before the last training camp at the end of June.

It was looking like I was going to be missing out on the WNBA season because I was going to miss so many games being on this medication.

Still, Bishop sees a silver lining.

“Initially, it [the medication] was for 3 months but after getting a couple of opinions, and more scans and all that jazz, the doctors agreed that 6 weeks on the mediation was enough,” she wrote in her blog. “This was such a relief for me. It was looking like I was going to be missing out on the WNBA season because I was going to miss so many games being on this medication, so after all the bad news I had over the past couple of months it was so nice to finally have some good news.”

As you can see the last year for these two athletes has not been easy and if there was some kind of reality show of an athlete's life, more people would understand the dedication and sacrifices sports people like Pearson and Bishop make day-in and day-out.

But the truth is that most of the time athletes are doing exhausting repetitive exercises, consistently pushing their bodies to extreme, trying to recover to do it all over again, all to stay focused on the ultimate dream; to win gold at the Olympics. An event that’s held for just two weeks, every four years. It can be testing and at times mundane and certainly not for the faint hearted.

They’re required to have that inner faith that tells them to ‘keep going’ and believe that “I can get back to the top”, even when it seems like others have written them off.

That’s why its important to have a support network to help you through both physically and mentally. Especially now, given that injured and unsuccessful athletes will be enduring physical rehabilitation and training, and dealing with the mental challenges in addition. They’re required to have that inner faith that tells them to ‘keep going’ and believe that “I can get back to the top”, even when it seems like others have written them off.

These are signs of true champions. Both already have their plan for the next couple of years and are doing the important things to see those plans come to fruition.

Pearson is focused on World Champs next year and Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018 and Abby looks to the next couple of years switching between the WNBA and Europe to make the most out of her playing ability at the peak of her career.

So, when you’re watching Rio and enjoying the drama that can only come with an Olympic Games, spare a thought for the athletes who are not on the court, in the field or on your screens. There are many deserving participants who were cheated by their own determination, will power and pressure to perform.

 


 

Jane Saville is an Australian Olympic race walker who won a bronze medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens

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