This summer, I had the privilege of volunteering at the world athletics championships in London, serving on the anti-doping team as an athlete chaperone.As to what this would actually involve, I had no clue. From the few hints that the job description revealed, the only way I could describe it to family and friends was that I would be following athletes around and waiting for them to piss. Which is, in all fairness, a cynical version of what I ended up doing.
Thankfully, this is a slightly more glamorous job than it may seem to be. When I picked up my lanyard for the week I was delighted to see I was given an all area access card. This meant that I could enter any zone of the stadium that I desired. It was a dream come true. However, things were just getting going at this point. Once I had managed to voyage beneath the stands to where the drugs team were based, I soon learnt that I would be placed track side for the event so that I could meet athletes and take them to be drugs tested and to accompany them (or rather ‘professionally stalk’ them) until they were ready to give a blood or urine sample.
This meant that not only did I have one of the best views in the stadium but I was also immersed in the action and, to my mum’s delight, would occasionally appear on TV.I was fortunate enough to gain a good insight into what it is like to be a professional athlete throughout my week at the stadium. What the camera does not show is how the athletes themselves interact with one another.
Although this is the competition that they have been training for since Rio last year, the atmosphere at the warm-up track and the changing rooms is incredibly relaxed. What many people will not realise is that these athletes race each other five to ten times a season, meaning that they naturally develop friendships. One of the best moments that I was thankful to witness was the friendship between the South African athletes: 400m World Record Holder, Wayde Van Neijk and Botswanan 800m junior world record holder Nijel Amos. When the two were united after wading their way through the hour long press tunnel, Amos turned and exclaimed how desperate he was for a Nandos. I was fascinated to find out that the lure of a cheeky Nandos has even made it into the highest levels of sport. Van Neijk commented: “the only spice Europeans know is salt.” To be able to turn from the face of the world’s cameras with millions of people watching your every action to be so relaxed is an outstanding achievement and explains why so many believe South Africans will be the next face of athletics.
The highlight of the games was certainly its climax the 4x100mmen’s relay, in which we witnessed British triumph and Usain Bolt’s last ever track race. I was fortunate enough to be track side during the event and attend the press conference.To the surprise of many due to his poor media portrayal, Justin Gatlin is one of the kindest men in sport. Despite coming a disappointing second place, he was supportive to all volunteers and fellow athletes.
If there is one behind-the-scenes fact that I should mention, it is the state in which the athletes put themselves in by racing. Half of the men’s 400m finalists threw up straight after the race and the medical area was always full of athletes because they pushed themselves so hard, with many athletes struggling to walk down through the media sections. It is this dedication and determination that can’t be shown in a minute of TV footage. It is a lifetime of hard work and the pain does not stop in the moments of glory.