London 2012: My Olympic Experience

Olympics1-2As a young girl, my favourite movie was the 1978 film International Velvet by Bryan Forbes. The film follows the story of a young girl, Sarah Brown, who overcomes life’s adversities to fulfill her dream of competing at the Olympic Games. In the film she represents Great Britain in the Equestrian Three Day event and helps her country win the team competition.

I watched the film many times over and it inspired me. I dreamed of one day representing my country at the Olympic Games. Today that dream is realised and my Olympic experience has been somewhat surreal. The London Olympic Games has been everything I dreamt it to be and more!

The Olympic Village

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The Village is a little world of it’s own, equipped with everything one could possibly imagine, from gyms, to hairdressers, to dentists, to any kind of food you can possibly imagine.

The most impressive of all is the Food Hall. It is enormous and caters for just about all tastes and ethic groups, with a selection of food from China, India, Africa, the America’s, Europe and of course Great Britain to name a few.

Although the huge selection of food can make meal choices rather difficult, once you have finally decided what to eat, you never know who you might end up sitting next to. During my stay in the Village I had the opportunity of dining with the likes of Lleyton Hewitt and Sir Chris Hoy to name a few.

Walking around the Village amongst a select field of the World’s best athletes is a surreal experience in itself. You never quite know which famous sports star you might walk past next, but I must admit; in real life, it is rather hard to recognize them.

Our Accommodation

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Team South Africa stayed in an apartment block called Heritage in the Olympic Village. Team South Africa consists of 125 athletes, small in comparison to the bigger nations like the United States of America, which boasts a total of 529 athletes. As a result, South Africa shared an apartment block with Spain and the Dominican Republic.

My teammates, Robyn de Groot, Joanna Van De Winkel and I shared a two bedroomed apartment, equipped with an on suite bathroom and a small lounge. Our apartment was very comfortable and we quickly made ourselves at home in the Village.

Team South Africa was lucky enough to be located very centrally in the Village. We were situated about 500m from the Main Dining Hall, the Gym, the Village Centre and the Village Hospital. We were also lucky enough to have a little Snack Shack just outside out apartment block entrance. These little Snack Shacks were sporadically placed around the village and had a great selection of ready made sandwiches, salads, muffins, fruit and of course, great coffee 🙂

The Road Race – Sunday 29 July

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The height of excitement, hard work and commitment, and the height of disappointment, all in the space of 4 hours! That sums up my Olympic Road Race experience!

Unfortunately no medal for South Africa at the London 2012 Games, but in keeping with the Spirit of the Games, we gave it all on the day! We fought hard in tough conditions, both Robyn and Jo encountered much bad luck, crashing at critical times in the race, and I’m proud of our efforts!

I felt strong on the day, I raced hard up Box Hill and I thought I had everything under control, until a sneaky break slipped off the front on the final Box Hill descent. Marianne Vos, Lizzie Armitstead, Olga Zabalinskaya and Shelley Olds got away.

Cycling is a team and tactical sport and despite a huge effort from the bigger nations, Germany and Italy. Together with some cooperation from myself and other riders in the chasing bunch, the break away was never caught. Shelley Olds punctured out of the break, Mariaane Vos won, Lizzie Armitstead finished 2nd and Olga Zabalinskaya 3rd. I finished 16th in the chasing bunch 27 seconds down on the winner.

The Olympic Women’s Road Race was a great display of women’s cycling at it’s best! A hard, aggressive race and despite the weather conditions, the support out on the London roads was absolutely amazing! I have never experienced such huge crowds supporting a women’s race before. The roads were packed from start to finish, a first for women’s cycling.

The Time Trial – Wednesday 1 August

559103_10151323722579008_1673438831_n1-2I finished 24th in the Olympic Individual Time Trial. I had no big expectations; my intention was to use the Time Trial to gain experience for future Olympic Games. Time Trial at this level is a very specialist event. I didn’t do any specific preparation for the Olympic Time Trial, and unfortunately I suffered mechanical issues on the day.

Taking on women who have spent four years and many trips to the wind tunnel to prepare for this event alone, was always going to be a challenge. I have lots of room for improvement and I will use the experience gained in the Time Trial to move forward in a positive way.

Moving Forward

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My London 2012 experience has been filled with a whirlwind of emotions, from crying one moment, to laughing the next. Although there have been many ups and downs over the past two weeks, I’ve done my best to soak up the vibe of the Games. What a wonderful experience it has been, I’ve met some amazing people and at the end of it all, I’m left overwhelmed by a feeling of excitement and thankfulness. I feel inspired!

The feeling of disappointment has quickly been replaced by a feeling of anticipation for what the future holds. I’m confident I have the strength and the talent to medal at the Olympic Games and my Olympic dream is still very much alive. I now have one Olympic Road Race and Time Trial experience in the bank and I look forward to Rio 2016!

A big lesson learnt from my London 2012 experience is that an Olympic medal requires a long-term plan. It takes four years of hard work, commitment and national support to realise this dream. Planning has already started and I won’t give up until I have fulfilled my dream of an Olympic podium.

I’m thankful for this amazing opportunity I’ve been given and the wonderful support and encouragement I’ve received to get this far!

Onward and upward to Rio 2016!

5 thoughts on “London 2012: My Olympic Experience

  1. Rosemary Clarke

    You couldn’t have a prouder family behind you – congratulations, have just loved all you have written, and your positive dedication – can’t wait for Rio!!! xxxx

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  2. Marc

    Congratulations Ashleigh on competing in the Games and unlucky at the road race.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences in London I know this will inspire young hopefuls for the future and some older weekend riders too.
    Good luck in the future!!!!!

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  3. Keith Currin

    Thanks for the fantastic blogs Ashleigh! One can almost feel your many emotions in the way your write! Your positive attitude is inspring!

    As a fellow South African, and a cyclist (not nearly in the same league!) I feel extremely proud of how our cyclists, especially the women, are performing internationally. As with our Swimmers in particular, we can only but thank athletes like yourself for your hard work and dedication. You make us PROUD!

    The joint venture the ladies have with the Belgiun Lotto squad has done wonders for our ladies cycling! I certainly hope the new venture by MTN is succesful in putting our talented men onto the international scene as with the ladies!

    I look forward to watching you ride in Rio!!

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  4. Rob Forsyth

    I’ve enjoyed everything you’ve written over the past few years (DVT always forwarded your pieces) and it’s just fantastic to see you at the Games! It’s inspiring and please don’t stop writing too!

    Like

  5. Pingback: Celebrating social media – part 1 – Six riders who blog « Unofficial Unsanctioned Women's UCI Cycling Blog

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