LockerRoom columnist Juliette Drysdale has never competed at a Commonwealth Games. But the Olympic bronze medalist knows plenty about what it takes to make a Games team, and the pressure of having to perform at an event that only rolls around once every four years.
It’s a question I’ve often been asked over the years. Which medals do I cherish the most – my world championship medals or my Olympic medal? The short answer is I would throw all of my world championship medals in the lake in exchange for an Olympic medal.
And here’s the thing. My three world championship titles mean a great deal to me, and are a huge source of pride. But two of the proudest moments in my rowing career were qualifying for my first Olympic Games at 20, and finally winning a bronze medal at my third and final Olympics in London.
An Olympic medal trumps all.
In rowing, the Olympics are far and above the pinnacle event. Everyone attends. It’s what they peak for. Add to that the huge and undeniable pressure of only having the opportunity to compete for those medals once every four years.
The Olympic Games are what dreams are made of. As a youngster, I watched and admired the Olympic and Commonwealth Games athletes who were superhuman to me; as a teenager I started to turn that dream into a goal in my pursuit to get to the Olympics. At that point, I didn’t know what sport would get me there, but somehow I knew I would.
And trust me, when you’re living out your childhood dream – sitting in the starting blocks at the Olympic Games, trying to focus on putting out the best possible performance and warding off the inevitable nerves – there’s a nagging voice in your head saying: ‘If you mess this up you won’t get a chance for four more years…if ever’!
The Olympics do funny things to people. Some athletes rise to the challenge and others simply crumble under the pressure. It’s not uncommon for athletes to win three successive world championships, and yet an Olympic gold medal remains out of reach.
Adding to the pressure is the fact that you’re part of a wider team, rather than simply competing at a world championship with your mates. The potential distractions – the media hype and attention, the enormity of the Games, being part of a wider team, not to mention the food hall – must all be overcome to be successful in the Games environment.
While I have no experience of the Commonwealth Games, as rowing hasn’t featured since 1986, I expect our current Commonwealth athletes on the Gold Coast are experiencing the awesome Kiwi team spirit and the buzzing atmosphere that come with any games.
For first-timers, the Games environment can be equally overwhelming and exciting. On arrival they’ll be greeted by a haka from the New Zealand team, be presented with copious amounts of team uniform, and be itching to explore the village.
While the Commonwealth Games lacks the global nature of the Olympic Games, it still has that pressure of only coming along once every four years. And it’s still one of the world’s biggest multi-sport events.
The Commonwealth Games have proven many times over their ability to capture the attention and support of the New Zealand public, and provide huge inspiration, especially for our young people.
The whole country gets on board and Commonwealth medals are an immense source of pride. I was inspired by the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games as an eight-year-old, and remember following athletes like gold medal-winning gymnast Nikki Jenkins with great interest and excitement.
This time around, I’m looking forward to watching athletes like promising Hamilton hammer thrower Julia Ratcliffe; Andrea Hewitt competing in her third Commonwealth Games triathlon; and of course seeing Dame Valerie Adams back in action following the birth of her baby girl. I also can’t wait to watch the Black Sticks – I’d love to see them win gold. I’ll never forget watching the team play at the London Olympics with such heart that I’ve followed them ever since.
One of the best things about these Games is that you often find yourself glued to sports you wouldn’t usually tune in to. I can’t wait to see what draws me in this time.
I wish all our Commonwealth Games athletes the very best. We’ll be cheering you on as you undoubtedly inspire another generation of world, Olympic and Commonwealth Games athletes.