For athletes, it’s the calm before the storm

Duncan Free and athletes
Duncan Free with Team Griffith athletes Linda Leverton, left, and Hannah Joye in Glasgow for the 2014 Commonwealth Games

by Duncan Free OAM, manager of the Griffith Sports College

Preparing for any major sporting event, the final days leading into competition are like the calm before the storm.

The anticipation of a World Championships, an Olympic or Commonwealth Games carries a certain “vibe” and nowhere is this felt more keenly than in the Athletes Village.

The Village is packed with an assortment of representatives from different nations, different sports and different cultural backgrounds. Furthermore, they all have different expectations.

They also share a couple of things. Whether you’re a Tanzanian weightlifter, a Malaysian badminton player or an Australian swimmer, every athlete feels some pre-competition anxiety.

However, countering that is another shared quality, namely a sharp focus on striving to execute the best performance possible.

Experienced athletes are well accustomed to the process they need to follow to deliver the performance that hopefully will achieve the best outcome. For first timers, it can be easy to become distracted.

I saw it all during my four Olympic Games, especially among the younger and less seasoned athletes caught up in the hype of an event and all the Village has to offer, including numerous visits to the dining room for the all-you-can-eat buffet and Cornettos, trying on all 300 items of team clothing and posting the various combinations on Instagram, and then trying to take in all there is to see in the Village.

And that’s all in the first day!

Duncan Free and swimmer Leiston Pickett
Duncan Free with swimmer Leiston Pickett

Some advice from a veteran: don’t do it. Most athletes are in the Village for about 14 days, so spread it out and take your time.

I’m not saying not to enjoy the experience, but remember the one and only reason you are there – to perform.

In Glasgow, the members of the Australian team are, and need to be, focused.

They are here for that one moment in time, their few seconds, minutes or hours of executing the perfect personal athletic performance. You can see it in their faces.

I caught up with about 10 of Griffith University’s Commonwealth Games contingent and every one of them has that look, that sense of the calm before the storm.

You can read the emotions, the nerves, anxiety, anticipation and focus as they absorb the enormity of the Commonwealth Games and mentally prepare themselves for what they need to put their body through in the next few days.

The right balance of these feelings aids overall performance. The slightest imbalance may be the difference between winning a medal and missing out.

That look of deep inner focus is all about athletes preparing their bodies to unleash a controlled fury that, in many cases, will open up a world of physical pain,pain they will have learned to love in the months and years leading into this event.

As I stayed longer in my sport, I learned to love that pain more and more each day. But apparently I was a slow learner, because it took me four Olympics and almost 20 years of learning to win my Olympic gold medal.

So my message to our Commonwealth Games athletes, and especially those on “Team Griffith”, is this: enjoy the experience, enjoy the pain and focus on the process required to execute the perfect race or performance.

The outcome is something you cannot control; the process is.

Like I say, the calm before the storm is everywhere in the Athletes Village in Glasgow and thousands of athletes are walking around with “that look”.

It’s a great thing to see.

Duncan Free is an Australian champion rower who competed at four Olympic Games, winning a gold medal in Beijing in 2008