As we come to the end of our Olympic preparation camp at the AIS European Training Center in Varese, Italy, I find myself thinking about the meaning of what we do here.
Sport occupies a unique place in Australian culture, simultaneously providing entertainment as well as creating national heroes. The veneration of sports stars is derided somewhat by those who would prefer that our scientists or doctors or artists were recognised, but rather than throw my weight behind sport in this debate, I would rather suggest something that unites these heroes.
When I look around my team at all the exceptional athletes that I have trained with over the months and years, there is one common factor: devotion. I chose that word very carefully, for I think that it is thrown around somewhat loosely these days.
Devotion is not a passing commitment among commitments, a promise to make something fit into an otherwise busy life. Devotion is a re-orientation of your entire life. Devotion means making the object of your obsession the axis around which the rest of your life revolves. Every decision you make is made in reference to your discipline.
For me, looking back over the four years that have led to this event, I find myself reflecting on the things that I have given up. Some have been minor – a birthday dinner left early because of training the next morning, an exam taken early, not being able to go with my girlfriend to her commencement formal. Others have been major, like the fact that I haven’t seen my family for over three years.
The excuse, “I can’t, I have rowing” has flowed from my lips more times than I can count. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Devotion to something, be it sport or music or research, signifies a recognition that something is more important than everything else in your life. For Olympians, many of whom live within very modest means, that devotion means centring four years of your life around a single event. We choose this life because we want to see how far we can go if we commit everything within our power to what we do, and the stellar Australians that have advanced science or healed the sick or beautified the world have all similarly devoted themselves to their disciplines.
In a world of polyglots, multi-tasking and Renaissance men and women, that singularity of purpose should be celebrated. See the Olympics not as a testament to physical strength or prowess, but rather as a chance to honour those who have sacrificed greatly for a chance at glory. Honour those who have given much in the hope that their devotion will serve as an example and inspiration to all Australians.