Competing at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games
by Marcus Mepstead, 26, British foil fencer, 2010 and 2013 Bronze medallist at the European Championships, team Gold medallist at the 2015 European Games and 2016 British National Champion.
My overall experience of the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games
There are so many poignant moments it’s hard to summarise my experience in just a couple of sentences. I went through such a variety of emotions during the games: sheer elation of qualifying contrasted by the despair of missing out on a medal; the thrilling post competition partying with Usain Bolt and Anthony Joshua (to name a few!) and goosebumps watching the amazing closing ceremony, hungry for another chance to win a medal.
My decision to compete in the Olympics
After graduating from London School of Economics and Political Science in 2014, and with a great support network around me, I decided to commit fully to fencing and start training professionally; welcoming a gruelling lifestyle that replaced my hours of studying with hours of training. It was only after some serious heartbreak and soul searching (due to narrowly missing out on a chance at competing in London 2012) that I realised just how much I wanted to compete in the 2016 Olympics.
The Olympic Games represent an opportunity for you to share your talents with the world.
Everyone has their own personal Olympic journey...
For the GB Men’s foil team just to compete, we had to battle against Germany (Bronze medalists in London 2012) to qualify through to the European zone (alongside, Russia, France and Italy). Due to the heavy emotional investment and dedication to training, we were ecstatic to know we were guaranteed a place at the Olympic Games. After qualifying, I was not prepared for the complete media frenzy in the run up to Rio. The endless photo-shoots, news interviews and sponsorship meetings we had to go through was just surreal! For each athlete, the Olympic Games represent an opportunity for you to share your talents and love for your specialised sport with the world, but as one agent kindly put it to me, ‘the world is window shopping for their next trend during these Olympics’.
Travelling to Rio
It was not until the journey to Heathrow when I began to feel like everything was real; I was becoming an Olympian, a dream I had been pursuing since the age of nine!
Heading to the airport felt like the first day of school, albeit with VIP treatment. Upon meeting all the other athletes, it was great to see everyone had the same anticipation and excitement, regardless of how many Olympics they had been to. This was pretty amazing and reassuring, and from the moment we arrived, it really felt like the athletes and the GB support team were participating as one big group.
It is easy to become wrapped up as a 'sports commodity'
One of my favourite parts of becoming a member of Team GB was receiving all the branded gear and being completely ‘kitted out’. This included our village wear, competition kit and the opening and closing ceremony outfits. On top of this, we had so many products thrown our way – mobile phones, headphones, sunglasses, jewellery and my personal favourite – an engraved golden spoon from Kellogg’s!
Meeting the stars!
My first few days at the Games were mostly spent at a Team GB training base out of the village. The feeling of surrealism was ever-present. On one occasion I bumped into Andy Murray and we discussed his recent success at Wimbledon, our training regimes and asked what it was like to carry the GB flag! I never really got used to being surrounded with people who have achieved just so much in their specialist field. I loved meeting everyone and the whole experience was very inspiring and provided a big driving force in my training.
The Olympic Village
In the village itself, we stayed in apartments that tried to provide as minimal interferences as possible from our training. However it was impossible not to be distracted, whether it be downtime with North Korean athletes in the entertainment area or small-talk in a lift with Mo Farah!
It was impossible not to be distracted, whether it be downtime with North Korean athletes in the entertainment area or small-talk in the lift with Mo Farah!
Actually competing was by far the greatest part of the event
The free gifts, kit, after-parties, hospitality and celebrity spotting were all fantastic, however these all still paled in comparison to the actual competition. A year ago, I froze while fencing in the European Championships Bronze medal match and from then on, I worked tirelessly to make sure that, in these Games, I would be completely ready. Even straight after winning Gold at the European Games my mind was focused on the Olympics. The first thing I did when I arrived at the Olympics 2016 fencing arena was walk through into the competition zone. I went over in my mind what it was going to be like to walk out, have my name called, and listen to the crowd’s response. I was nervous, but more excited about what could be, rather than worried about what could go wrong. During the actual competition, my proudest moment was stepping out to fight against the Russians on the biggest stage of my career, feeling completely at ease and allowing myself to enjoy the moment. Of course there was huge disappointment in not winning our match, but as a team we wanted to give it our best shot and I felt we absolutely did.
Combating the emotions after losing...
After we lost to Russia, it was difficult to come to terms with the fact we no longer had a chance of medalling. During my BBC interview I was holding back tears and even in our following match against Egypt, I was still trying hard to move away from the thoughts of ‘four more years’ whilst trying to concentrate on the current fight. It was such a horrible feeling and a real test of the enormous mental work I had done.
The hunger after disappointment is a driving force unmatched by anything else
The driving force that kicked in since our loss has not stopped building. When you have been to an Olympics and been part of the most successful GB team ever, but not actually contributed a medal of your own, four more years could not come soon enough!
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