Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Give it everything - and enjoy the journey

Written by and sent in by MC

It's not life or death - but for those directly involved, never mind the fans, it can certainly seem that way sometimes. Ever met an injured athlete? Rarely likely to be somebody full of the joys of spring. So spare a thought this week for young Steph Twell, Commonwealth medallist and former World Junior champion, who will be coming to terms with a nasty ankle injury sustained on Sunday. The extent of the damage is at the time of writing unclear, however from the reports emerging it seems likely that it will result in a lengthy layoff. Will it impact on her ambitions for the World Championships in Daegu this summer? Time will tell - certainly an enforced break will not have been part of her plans. Will it impact on her ambitions for the Olympic Games in London next summer? Time will also tell, although one would have to hope that her misfortune has struck early enough and is not of such a magnitude to threaten her performance that far out. But it is by no means ideal for Steph, even if she can perhaps comfort herself by looking to the many examples of athletes who have faced injury despair and somehow managed to turn it to their advantage. What doesn’t kill you…

But whatever else, it will certainly have hammered home to Steph just how fragile dreams can be. And not just to Steph - she is a popular character within the sport and as news of her injury spread it immediately elicited words of sympathy and support from fans and fellow athletes alike, many of whom will have felt it as a warning shot across the bow themselves. Most will talk a good game about being focussed on Paris for the upcoming European Indoor Championships and Daegu for the Worlds this summer, however in their heart of hearts each training session completed is one more ticked off on the road to London. The draw and inspiration of a home Games to a British athlete is impossible to overstate. But with such a prize on offer, the devastating blow of an injury will hit that much harder.

Injury should never be thought of as inevitable, however the sad reality is that there will be athletes who are ticking sessions off now but who won't manage to make it to the start line in 2012. Some will have been down-right unlucky, others will have pushed too hard in their quest for glory. Faced with that prospect, it is easy to imagine that there might be a temptation to wrap-up in cotton wool, to minimise risk and to play things safe. Will anyone who has traditionally used the cross-country season as part of their winter training be dissuaded from taking to the mud next year after the fate that befell Steph on the weekend? Some might be considering it at least.

Accepting that it is easy for me to sit behind a computer screen and write this - that isn't really the attitude of a champion though is it?

One notable area of improvement under Charles Van Commenee has been the growing sense amongst athletes that turning up on its own is not ok; turning up and performing to the best of your potential is. It would be a shame to lose that drive for success as the big event approaches and the jitters increase. Advice to athletes must certainly include a plea to be sensible and not to take undue risk, but the overriding message must surely be to give it everything between now and next summer. It's not just a once-in-a-lifetime chance to compete at a home Olympics - it's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to perform out of your skin at a home Olympics.

One appendage to the advice, as much for the fans as for the athletes and coaches: there is a lot of athletics between now and July 2012 and, while it is easy to get carried away and dream about what might become at the Olympics, many memorable moments and career highlights will come in the period between now and then. So don’t just give it everything in the quest towards 2012, make sure you enjoy and make the most of the journey along the way as well. As for Steph - wishing her a speedy recovery of course.

Written by and sent in by MC

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