Training and competitions went as well as usual, and work didn’t seem to be having any effect on my performances. Rather unsurprisingly, I was selected to represent great Britain and Northern Ireland in the European Championships which were to be held in Dublin in September of 1993. Acclimatisation was going to be difficult, but I took every opportunity to train and compete in the pouring rain, and this paid dividends in the end. We were to fly from Leeds directly to Dublin, which meant quite a short journey to the airport for a change. The only members of the team to fly from Leeds were myself and CS, MW, MB (our marathon runner), and the team manager BS.
The plane was a propeller job, and MB, who was a very inexperienced flier, was slightly nervous. He was so nervous that the name of Captain Pooh Stripes stayed with him for some time after the very bumpy flight. I must admit that it was not a pleasant experience, bumping around at 30,000 feet whilst trying to drink a coffee and eat a Danish whilst MB kept asking if it was supposed to do that, and to top it all there was a strange grinding clinking noise behind me that didn’t sound like anything I had ever heard on a plane before. MB’s nerves, my anxiety and the turbulence led to some very colourful language passing backwards and forwards across the aisle. It was only after we had disembarked from the plane that MW saw fit to inform me that the strange grinding clinking noise behind me was a similarly nervous and anxious nun busily doing her thing with her rosary. I can only hope that her thoughts were so focused on prayer that she did not hear our language.
When we landed at Dublin we were greeted by rain, but we were assured that it was only a passing shower. To give the weather men credit, they were right, it was a passing shower and sure enough after a week it did pass. If I had my time again I would definitely have taken more clothes with me. Our kit was an interesting combination of colours. Black, gold, red and green made us look like we were from the European branch of the African National Congress rather than Great Britain, and just to make a change, whereas usually the kit was so big we could fit a friend in our track suit with us, this kit was decidedly snug fitting. I had imagined that the kit would be of questionable quality and therefore I took a lot of my kit from Barcelona with me. One item of kit from Barcelona which I did take, and thank goodness for that, was my water proof tracksuit, which I ended up wearing every day. I also wore my lycra all in one from Barcelona, which turned out to be a good idea as well, as being made of lycra it dried out easily every night after my daily drenching.
We were housed in Dublin University accommodation, four single rooms and a sitting room/kitchen in each apartment. The track was at the other end of the university campus, and by the time we had walked down there we were well and truly on our way towards being warmed up. Like all good athletes, we visited the track at the first opportunity to loosen off and see what the facilities were like. We decided to make camp at the shallow end as the organisers had seen fit to place a small tent at that end, which was where we attempted to warm up. As soon as I started to do anything fast it became clear that the combination of the cold wet weather and the vast amount of speed work I had been doing had left my fragile hamstrings in a delicate state. I really didn’t think I was going to be able to compete at my best, if at all. The call went out for medical help, and although it looked for a long time like I would have to rely on the local horse doctor, an Irish physio stepped into the breach. He was well known to some of our team as he had studied at the same physio college as they had in London several years previously. Although he had received the same academic training his social development had definitely gone in a different direction to that of his British colleagues, as he turned out to be something of a prude. I told him what my problem was and he decided that the traditional treatment of ultra sound and interferential treatment was the way to go. However, there was one small problem to this. He insisted that I did not remove any of my clothing. This resulted in him administering ultra sound treatment with his hand up my tight trouser leg, and the way in which he placed the interferential pads on the top and bottom of my hamstrings with the attached wires was a feat of manual dexterity and electrical engineering. The ironic thing was that he was partially sighted, the athletes who may potentially wander in would be either blind or partially sighted, and it was so cold that a fully sighted person would have struggled to see anything of any interest anyway. Although this kind of treatment was a bit of a farce, it did work as I made it through all my races without a problem.
As I usually struggled to sleep at championships I took to having a half of the black stuff each evening, and it seemed to help. I think the 10 or 11 pints CS had every night must have helped him to sleep as well if the length of time it took me to wake him in the morning was anything to go by.
The first event of the championship was the opening ceremony. According to those of my team mates who attended the opening ceremony in Barcelona it was almost an exact replica of that extravaganza, although I don’t remember them mentioning being knee deep in mud, soaking wet and with only two men and a dog watching them at the time. One thing that was better than Barcelona was the announcer. It is difficult to describe him, but if you can imagine an Irish cross between David Coleman, in one of his less lucid states, and Alan Partridge in one of his more ludicrous phases then you’re somewhere near.
My first track event was the 100m. The weather, as it was all week, was heavy rain with spells of intermittent light showers. Warming up was a nightmare. There was no indoor area in which to stretch, so I had to resort to jogging around a muddy field, and lying down in one of the shallower areas of the field to stretch. We found a path that wasn’t too muddy to do our strides on, and by the time the race came around I had managed to get a bit of blood flowing to my legs. We all had a chance to post a time in the first round, and the fastest six went through to the final.
During the first round I became aware of the slightly bizarre judging methods that were to be employed at the championships. Not that I should have been surprised, after all these were the same judges who had measured a 3m 60 cm long jump as 6m 40 cm due to holding the wrong end of a 10m tape measure at a previous championships. One of my competitors was called to his blocks and went through his starting routine. The gun went and off he sped. Within a second the recall gun had gone followed by a call of “ah, you didn’t look like you got a very good start so you can have another go if you want”. As it turned out, the second time round he didn’t have a very good start, middle or end and ran a terrible time, so nothing was lost. It’s a good job the starter didn’t follow that policy for every athlete or we could have been there all day.
I must have got a good start, followed it up with a good middle, and ran a reasonable end as I managed to make it into the final as the fastest qualifier. It felt good, I was very excited and felt sure that I could go a lot faster in the final. After all, I had run the heat so relaxed, even managing to stick my tongue out half way down to make sure I stayed relaxed, a trick I often tried to execute for that purpose, and it had worked well. If I gave it everything in the final who knew what I could achieve.
I ate a healthy lunch and then followed my same warm up routine for the final in the afternoon. The weather was still the same, and I hoped that this would play into my hands, as at least the athletes from Southern Europe would find these conditions completely alien to them. I had run in the region of 12.1 in the heats, and although that was slow for such a championships the conditions meant that it wasn’t that bad, but I was convinced I could dip under 12 secs. All the athletes from Spain struggled, and it became clear that it was between myself and the Russian world record holder SS. He was the penultimate athlete to go, and he ran a time of 12.1 secs, so I knew it was mine for the taking. This was where I was going to fulfil my potential and bring home the gold medal that I desired so much.
As I settled on my blocks I knew that I was going to explode like never before, I just hoped that CS could keep up with me. If anything, the start was what I thought would be our Achilles heel, so I was very nervous. The gun went and we came out well. As I accelerated and started to get fully into my running I put everything in to it, and thinking back, probably too much into it. I drove my arms like never before, gritted my teeth like never before, and tried to move my legs like never before. The crowd, all 12 of whom I could name personally, were going crazy. I didn’t stick my tongue out this time, I had to put everything into driving my body forwards. As I crossed the line I felt that I had done enough, but unfortunately the clock did not agree.
I had managed to run slightly slower than in the heat, and thus I had to settle for a silver medal. Mixed emotions surged through my body. I was annoyed that I had thrown away the chance of a gold medal, but on the other hand I was pleased to have at last won my first individual medal. Initially the annoyed emotion was the strongest, which I suppose is why athletes like myself manage to find the drive to achieve as much as we do in the long run. My desire to win was so strong that second best was not good enough. It was only after several minutes that I noticed I had ripped my number down the middle, a sure sign that I had been trying too hard. If I was going to win gold medals I would have to learn to harness my drive and desire in a more controlled and productive way. Within a couple of hours the satisfied emotions started to win through: after all, I had beaten everybody apart from the world record holder, which was nothing to be ashamed about.