JW and I were extremely excited at the prospect of running in a European final and having the chance of winning a medal; all our hard work and sacrifice had been worthwhile. These high spirits combined with the general joy of youth may well explain JW’s subsequent actions!
Shortly after arriving back at the hotel, JW informed me that he was going on a date that night with B. So, JW left for his hot date and I spent some time with the rest of the team (who were fine with looking after me) before turning in for the night at a fairly early hour. I struggled to get to sleep, as I always did, but I eventually nodded off around midnight.
I was woken by the key in the lock and the door opening, and judging by how groggy I felt it must have been two or three in the morning. At least he’d made it back to the room I thought. However, he wasn’t the only one who had made it back to the room ……
“Don’t worry, he’ll be fast asleep” I heard him say in a whisper.
I was furious. I had to be on the track at 9:30 am, which meant warming up at 8:30, which would mean getting up at about 6:00 am at the latest in order to take on sufficient fuel at breakfast. I couldn’t believe what he was doing.
All I could do was to try to make the best of a bad job, so I tried to get back to sleep without letting it wind me up anymore. However, after laying there listening to the two of them doing the kind of things two young people do at that time of the night I finally flipped. I stood up with my cover wrapped around me, my pillow in hand and snarled “You’ve got 20 minutes and then she’s out of here”. I trudged off to the bathroom and tried to fall asleep sat on the toilet with the young lover’s giggles ringing in my ears. After about 15 minutes she left. I returned to my bed ignoring JW.
We woke in the morning, neither of us mentioning the night before. Breakfast and warm up was tense, but then again it always was. The race time came round and we stepped out onto the track. I was in lane 1, with three Spanish athletes completing the line-up. The gun went and I flew out of the blocks.
After only twenty metres or so of the race I got one of the shocks of my life. One of our athletes, SB, was competing in the heptathlon and was waiting for her throw in the shot put, which just happened to be at about 20 metres past the start line for the 400m. As I ran past her she put all her energy into shouting “go on Andy” as loud as she possibly could. The result could have been worse, I suppose I could have ended up tripping JW up rather than just veering from lane 1 into lane 3. It was like a horse who had been frightened by a back firing car or something. JW reacted quickly and tried to steer me back into our lanes and tried even harder to get the synchronization back which we had lost as a result.
The adrenalin rush the shock gave me must have had some benefit to me as I stormed down the back straight once we had got back into our lane and set off after the Spanish Armada. I clawed back most of the deficit, but the effort had left me with nothing left for the final 30m and I couldn’t sustain my pace through to the line. I ended up agonisingly missing out on a bronze medal by 0.1 secs.
As I stood there, hands on knees wondering if I could make it to the grassy area to throw up you could say I was a bit annoyed. Would I have won a medal if I had got a full night’s sleep? Would I have won a medal if I hadn’t been partially deafened and run 405m? I’ll never know, but it couldn’t have helped.
Although in the long run it doesn’t really matter but at the time it hurt like hell. The prospect of these championships and the chance to win a medal had kept me going whilst I had been losing my sight. They were my first thought in the morning and last thought in the evening and formed the major part of most of my dreams. Two separate events which I could not control had robbed me of my dreams. My time of 53.4 secs showed I was in good form, but the medal I craved still eluded me. As I lay on the grass, slightly lighter than I had been several minutes earlier, I wondered if the chance to win that elusive medal had passed me by.
The first event of the following day was the 4 x 100m relay. The relay rules for blind athletics try to ensure that no team gets an advantage from running four less impaired athletes and so each team must include at least one B1 athlete, and no more than 1 B3 athlete. This meant that we would run two B2 athletes, me being one of them. I was to run the second leg. The hardest thing to get right in blind relays is the changeover. At that time there was no baton, not even a need for the athletes to touch. All that we had to do was to make sure that the incoming runner and the outgoing runner were both in the designated 20 metre changeover zone at the same time. To maximise overall speed the outgoing athlete would start to accelerate as the incoming runner approached, and hopefully the incoming runner would step into the zone at the same time as the outgoing runner exited it. Due to pushing changeovers to the absolute limit in order to shave off as much time as possible, it was usual for the relays to involve several red flags and numerous disqualifications.
The race went well. I ran a strong second leg, all our changeovers were good and although it was a very close call our last leg runner BM, an endurance athlete drafted in as he was our only B1 athlete, just did enough to hang on to a bronze medal.
I was ecstatic. Sure, it wasn’t like winning an individual medal, but what the hell, it was a medal, something to show the folks back home. JW and I danced our way back down the back straight at great speed and returned to the rest of the team. Caen had better prepare itself for some serious partying was the gist of our conversations.
But celebrations had to be put on hold, at least for a while, as we still had to run the 4 x 400m relay. I was to run the first leg and hopefully keep us in contention at least. BM was to run the second leg, and as our slowest runner his job was also to try and keep us in contention. If we were anywhere near the other three teams we were confident that our last two runners could bring home the bacon as they were probably two of the fastest 400m runners in the world, never mind the championships. NT was to run the third leg, and although he was at the time an 800m and 1500m runner he was ridiculously quick over the shorter distances as well. And so he should have been, winning the 800m in a time of in the low 1 minute 50’s and a 1500m time of somewhere in the high 3 minute 50s. Our last athlete was SB. He had won the B3 400m by a mile, and consistently ran near to the 50 second mark for his 400m’s.
All I had to do was to run a time somewhere near to what I had done in the individual 400m, and that I did, thanks in no small part to having had a full night’s sleep and not having taken the long way round the track! BM took up the virtual baton and kept us well in contention with the other three teams. As soon as NT grabbed the virtual baton the gold medal was in the bag. He steamed around the track with a split of sub 50 secs and blew the field apart. We were now clear by a long way. SB didn’t push the takeover opting instead to keep it safe as we were so far clear and set off on his victory parade. When he crossed the line we were something in the region of 80m ahead of the other teams. The gold medal was ours, and not only that, the world record had been smashed.
It was one of the few times that I managed to get to my feet within five minutes of finishing a 400m, and we were soon celebrating. JW proved his worth once again, miraculously producing several bottles of beer from his bag. One could only guess if he usually carried them around with him; it would have explained many things if it were the truth!
Our lap of honour was more like a slight amble of honour in front of the stand, and we were soon stripping off our vests to demonstrate our manly physiques. A camera was soon produced and we lined up with a Union Jack Flag for our photo’s taking. The result, a photo that looks like we were naked with only the Union Jack Flag to hide our modesty. The medal ceremony was a very proud moment, and the gold medal felt great hanging around my neck.
When we returned to the hotel JW decided we did not have enough beer for the night ahead, so off he trotted with a massive bag and a kitty of money from all the team. An hour or so later JW, true to form, turned up back at the room with a couple of foreigners in tow. The two Eastern European athletes, surprisingly male, had been commandeered by JW in the local super Marché to carry several dozen bottles of beer back to our hotel. Their reward – a beer each. Times really must have been hard in Eastern Europe.
An hour or so later, the GB team assembled in the foyer for a civic reception and banquet at the town hall. We were not sure how far it was, but we all had to walk anyway so we took lots of provisions with us – about 100 bottles of beer to be precise. Eventually we arrived at the banquet and found the food and drink most acceptable. Towards the end of the meal a Polish athlete, known to us lovingly as Valdek, came over to our table and deposited a bottle of polish vodka for our pleasure. This bottle was passed around the table until it was all consumed, which took no more than two minutes. The results were immediate – the guy next to me, BR, shoved some smelly cheese up my nose. It really did smell and burnt slightly as well.
Fatigue started to take over, 9 races in four days is far from a holiday after all, and so I returned to the hotel early with MF and BR. The walk had invigorated me enough to make me want to watch the world title fight that was on television that night. We entered the room and as the television was wall mounted at just over six feet MF pulled up his chair and stood on it with his face pressed to the screen in order to be able to see it a bit better. Several people had walked into MF’s room unannounced during the week and caught him in this position trying to find some French pornography to watch on an evening, which only served to perpetuate his reputation for being sex mad. The fight was the ill-fated Chris Eubank versus Michael Watson bout. It was a thrilling fight, so much so that MF nearly fell off his chair on several occasions. The ending of the fight left a sick feeling in my stomach, and if I hadn’t been drinking fairly heavily I doubt I would have got to sleep as quickly as I did.
I woke in the morning feeling a little bit rough to say the least, and quickly finished off my packing. As I was doing this JW and B turned up still inebriated and giggling a lot. I told them that I would leave them alone to say their good byes and wandered off into the hall way to find out who was up and about and what happened after I had left the party the previous night.
I was soon informed that MR had been dancing on the table and performing many songs with accompanying actions to great hilarity, everybody had joined in, and plenty of alcohol had been consumed. It was then that I heard a horrible noise coming from down the corridor. It was a cross between a fog horn and a cow giving birth. It sounded like someone was in pain, so of course I stumbled down to see who it was as this was a potential piss taking opportunity. I wasn’t disappointed, for there on the floor, apparently wearing nothing but a single sick stained sheet covering only certain parts of his body was MR. He was hugging the toilet like a long lost friend and making that awful noise every time his insides tried to escape their confines. According to BM he had spent most of the night doing this.
As the time was now 7:15 am and we were supposed to be on the bus in 15 minutes I thought I’d better give JW the hurry up. After about 10 minutes banging, I thought it was time for me to knock on the door. JW eventually answered, claiming that he had fallen asleep and wasn’t aware of the time – that old chestnut. Bags were dragged to the bus and we were on our way to the ferry. The trip over was bad enough, but a six hour ferry journey on a sea with quite a swell after the night most of our team had had was too much for most of them to bear. Most of the team spent the journey hanging over the side. I managed to keep everything down, but it was a close call.
The drive home was long and tiring. KR drove again, MW, being 6 foot 5 sat in the front, and I sat in the middle of JW and MR who were obviously suffering badly. MW, although not being able to see much, could tell when the car was veering off to the side for no apparent reason and thus appointed himself the designated person to try and keep KR awake. I had purchased myself a large bag of tortilla crisps as my hangover food and they helped pass a good chunk of the journey. As we sped up the M6 to Manchester MR woke from his slumber.
“Andrew, am I right in recalling that you were eating a bag of tortilla crisps earlier?” he calmly asked.
I replied that I had and that I had indeed consumed the full bag.
“What did you do with the packet?” he asked nonchalantly.
I told him that I had passed it to KR to put with the rest of the litter.
“KR, I believe that Andrew passed you his empty packet of crisps, is that correct?” he asked still portraying no outwards signs of any panic.
KR replied that he was indeed correct.
“Do you still have it?” he asked.
She replied that she did indeed still have it.
“Do you think you could pass it to me please?”
As the bag was passed back to him he still appeared calm and his intentions were unclear. He unfolded the bag and opened it up wide before doing his impression of a cow giving birth again. A service station was found as soon as possible and the offending article deposited in a bin.
My first experience of an international athletics championship had been nothing like I had expected. One thing was clear, I was going to enjoy this aspect of being blind, and I was going to be good at it, I would make sure of that.