NZ’s heptathlete in London 2012, Sarah Cowley Ross recalls being inspired by Lorraine Moller, kept sleepless by Sarah Ulmer and hearing a familiar voice among 85,000 in the starting blocks, in the Memory Games Q&A with LockerRoom writers who’ve been to the Olympics.
What‘s your first Olympic memory?
I can still see Lorraine Moller’s sweaty, exhausted and elated face after winning bronze at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in the women’s marathon. Her post-race euphoria has stayed with me as the realisation of a Kiwi runner’s dream. Pretty choice for an eight-year-old sporty kid from Rotorua to see on TV.
I also remember from those Games watching Linford Christie, full of muscles, cross the finish-line first in the men’s 100m. I can see every other 100m men’s winner in my mind run the 9-to-10 seconds to glory since. It’s an event which attracts so much attention regardless of whether you’re a track and field head or not.
I couldn’t wait for the 1996 Atlanta Games to start, and when I saw Chantal Brunner with NZL by her name on the runway in the long jump final, my own Olympic dream was well and truly sown.
What are your favourite Olympic moments – first watching from afar and then being there?
In 2004, I got up in the middle of the night to watch Kiwi cyclist Sarah Ulmer’s gold medal ride in the individual pursuit in Athens. Seeing her come home like an absolute steam train and gasping for air following her historic ride was epic. I had way too much adrenaline and couldn’t get back to sleep.
I can still feel what it was like for me in London in 2012, when I walked out to the Olympic Stadium for my first event, the 100m hurdles. The noise was deafening, the atmosphere electric, I was really nervous but ready. It’s a surreal experience to put your blocks down knowing you have a big job ahead (seven events), but you’ve been dreaming of this opportunity for 20 years. I didn’t know where my family were in the 85,000-strong crowd but I vividly remember hearing my older brother yell out to me as I walked back behind my starting blocks. I’ll never forget that.
Throwing my personal best in javelin in the Olympic Stadium was really special. It was an event I really battled with, so it was very satisfying to produce my best on the world’s greatest sporting stage.
After I finished competing in the heptathlon, it was special to cheer on my team-mates, knowing how hard they’d worked for their moment.
For pure class, watching Kenyan David Rudisha’s 800m world record in the Olympic Stadium was phenomenal. Running the 800m in 1m 40.91s is outrageous; he just kept pulling away. It was pretty to watch. Within the hour, the Jamaican men’s relay team had also broken a world record, so the stadium was totally lit up and buzzing.
What’s your dream scenario to play out in Tokyo?
As chair of the New Zealand Olympic Committee Athletes’ Commission, my dream scenario to play out in Tokyo is that our whole NZ Team get into Tokyo safely, perform above their expectations, arrive back safely in New Zealand and, following MIQ, are reunited with their whānau and friends.
It has been a gargantuan effort to get all our athletes and support staff to Tokyo and I really want everyone to come home safely.
What events are you most looking forward to?
No brainer – the athletics! But I will be fixated on every Kiwi athlete’s moment in Tokyo because they’ve earned the fern and it’s been a hugely challenging Olympic cycle for our NZ Team.
I have many mates in the team and, as a Kiwi sports fan, I’m immensely proud of them all.
My husband, Gus, works for High Performance Sport NZ and so our family will be particularly interested in his athletes competing in the men’s shot put (Tractor Tom), the women’s single scull (Twigger Digger), and the women’s hammer (JRat).
It takes a village behind every athlete, and in particular our kids, Max and Poppy, will look forward to cheering for their favourites on the big stage.
* Sarah Cowley Ross will co-host TVNZ’s daily coverage of the Olympics, with Toni Street and Scotty Stevenson, from the opening ceremony on July 23.