South African legend Ernst van Dyk's London Paralympics diary.
MONDAY, 10 SEPTEMBER
By the time you read this, I’ll more than likely be back in South Africa, after what has been a memorable sixth Paralympics for me. As it stands, I’m writing this sitting in departures at Heathrow Airport, about to catch my flight back home, and reflecting on London’s hosting of the Games, as well as my own experiences.
My final competitive commitment was Friday’s road race at Brands Hatch, where I was pipped at the post by Italy’s former Formula 1 driver, Alex Zanardi, and had to settle for the silver medal. As a result, I was exhausted on Saturday, having got in late on Friday and only got to sleep in the early hours, with my mind still buzzing. So, Saturday was a bit of a write-off, although I had to head back to Brands Hatch in Kent to collect my equipment. That took some time, so I actually ended up spending most of the day there, and managed to also say some final goodbyes to the people I know.
When I did eventually get back to the athletes' village, I was pretty spent and just relaxed. All I had left in me was a drink with friends on Saturday evening, but I was home pretty early. I think the efforts of the previous day had taken a lot out of me, both physically and mentally.
Sunday was also pretty uneventful and I enjoyed just doing nothing and hanging around the athletes’ village for the final time. All we had on was a press conference with the South African media, which was a 40-minute tube ride away. There were speeches from SASCOC president Gideon Sam, Deputy Sports Minister Gert Oosthuizen and SA team Chef de Mission Pieter Badenhorst. We also had to do some interviews before heading back to the athletes’ village, where I had an appointment for a MRI scan on my troublesome shoulder.
Everything though was leading up to the closing ceremony and I must say that it was worth the wait – definitely the most amazing of the six I’ve attended. The whole flame theme was incredible and it was made even more memorable by the performances of Coldplay, Rihanna and Jay-Z. I’m a big Coldplay fan, so it was awesome seeing them live. Hats off to the organisers, because they clearly put a lot of work into the ceremony and it was the perfect end to what was an incredible Paralympics. What made things even better was that we were in the inner circle and could see all the action up close, so we weren’t far from the stage where Coldplay performed. Something to remember.
I’ve been asked if this was my final Paralympics, but I can state quite clearly that that is definitely not the case. I’m already planning for Rio in 2016 and I plan to be there, making another bid for a gold medal. That may sound surprising to some, as I will be 43 then, but hand cycling is different from other sports. In fact, Zanardi is actually 45 and the guy who came second to him in the time trial – Germany’s Norbert Mosandl – is 51. So, I think we need to move away from determining someone’s medal potential based on their age. It’s a lot more complicated than that.
Lastly, some closing thoughts on the 2012 London Paralympics. I think the Paralympics is finally realising its full potential. We had packed stadiums and people buying heaps of tickets, and I think the Paralympics can now rightly claim to be the second-biggest sports event in the world.
It’s great for us athletes, and it makes it even more special representing our countries on the biggest stage. I poured everything into winning a medal in London, and even though I wanted gold, I couldn’t have given it any more than I did. Silver it is for 2012.
Now, I can’t wait to meet my second daughter, Sunel, who was born just a week ago. That’s going to be very special and I can’t wait to get home to Paarl.
Until next time, and keep supporting South Africa’s Paralympic athletes.
DAY 9: FRIDAY, 7 SEPTEMBER
03:30 – As per the norm, I’m up and awake at an early hour on race day, although this time, things are a little different, as I’ve picked up a stomach bug. I’ve got terrible diarrhea and stomach cramps, and I find out later that there’s a virus going around the athletes’ village. I immediately start hydrating, as it’s obviously not the thing you want on race day, particularly with a tough road race ahead. But, that’s Murphy’s Law and I have to deal with it.
08:00 – I eventually get up, rather frazzled, and head straight to the doctor for some Imodium and Buscopan, covering both the diarrhea and the stomach cramps.
08:30 – After that, I try and keep things as regular as possible, despite my condition. So, it’s still the oats, banana, honey and espresso, but I’m not feeling great.
09:30 – I’ve got quite a lot of time to kill, so I use it to do some work on my company, answering some emails and doing some work on the website. I also do some invoicing and basically try and keep busy, which is not easy to do on race day.
13:00 – I head to the dining hall for some lunch, which is made up of pasta and potatoes for me, so that I can carbo-load for the race ahead.
14:15 – We get the call that we don’t have to take the bus to Brands Hatch, which is a huge relief, because I’m just about sick of that bus ride! Instead, we get to take one of the team’s two BMWs, which is a much more comfortable way to travel and particularly ideal on race day.
15:00 – We arrive at Brands Hatch and I do my best to try and relax, ahead of the race. I also make sure that I’m taking in lots of fluids and staying hydrated, after what I’ve been through today. I then chat to some of my competitors, before getting my shoulder strapped – I’ve been having some trouble with it.
15:30 – I get my warm-up routine under way and that involves about half an hour on the indoor trainer. I then take the race bike out and make sure that everything is as I left it last night. After that, it’s call time, as the start of the race looms.
16:30 – The race is upon me and I have to focus. The start of the race is very much ‘cat and mouse’, as we all try and feel each other out. At one stage, I’m happy just to hang at the back of the pack, as the stomach cramps are killing me. I make sure I cover any attacks that take place, but otherwise I’m happy to just hang back. With about four laps to go, a couple of us make a break, and we actually drop Oscar Sanchez, Alex Zanardi and NorbertMosandl – the big names. Unfortunately, we don’t manage to sort out how to work together, and those three eventually catch us. I then decide to wait for the last lap and make my move with about two kilometres to go. I hold my position and coming round the final bend, I’m still in the lead and looking good. Zanardi then surges ahead of me with about 150 metres to go, and I thought that that was it. I had it in my mind that I needed to protect second place, but when I looked back, I realised that the two of us actually had quite a big lead. But, I still gave it my all, although I had to settle for second place and the silver medal. I was actually very happy with that and pretty emotional, having sacrificed so much to get here.
19:00 – We head for media interviews and then I’m singled out for drug testing, which is quite a process. But, that’s not before the medal ceremony, where I’m on the podium with Zanardi and third-placed WimDecleir. Credit to Zanardi – he’s the first guy to outsprint me in a major competition, but I do still have concerns about his bike. The doping control process is something else. You have to sign some paperwork, which tells you that you have an hour to get to a central point. Once you get there, you sign in and go to a room, where I was accompanied by the physiotherapist, to make sure there was someone with me through the procedure. You then select a steel cup, pull your pants down and lift your shirt, so that they can see that you don’t have any tubes hidden up your shirt. You then pass the urine, select the sample container, complete the paperwork and declare all the vitamins and medication you’ve ingested in the previous seven days, and then you’re done.
21:30 – After an exhausting day, I’m back in room, updating you on a memorable day. I’m exhausted, so sleep can’t come quick enough.
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