This post is in memory of Burry Stander who was killed today (Jan 3rd 2012) in South Africa by a Taxi whilst out on a training ride. Burry is pictured leading the Olympic MTB race in this posts featured picture – in the ‘Rock Garden’.
I’ve had a life long ambition to go to the Olympics, first as a competitor when I was inspired by the great Daley Thompson in 1980, and then later as I realised that I was not gifted or talented that I would have to find another way.
On 6 July 2005 when it was announced that London would host the Games, I was standing in the athletes lounge at Loughborough University (Where I worked) with hundreds of other sports people. It is a moment I will always remember which raised the hairs on my neck and bought a lump to my throat.
In the years preceding the Games I applied to become a volunteer but with no luck, then tried applying for tickets twice with no luck, then a friend Rob Butcher invited me to come with him to the Olympic Mountain Bike event for which he had spare tickets.
It was Rob who had introduced me to Mountain Biking over 20 years ago so it felt good to be going with him to this special event.
The race didn’t disappoint, the venue at Hadleigh Farm in Essex was a perfect blend of steep climbs, vicious technical descents, and fast rolling sections. The whole course was set in a bowl so you could follow the racing almost for the whole 4.75 km lap. (7 laps)
Even when you couldn’t see the riders with the naked eye, there were a selection of big screens showing the action so you didn’t lose track.
Kulhavy (Czech Rep) takes the lead
My over-riding memory of the event was to see Nino Schurter (current World Champion ) closely pursued by Jaroslav Kulhavy a Czech rider who had his sights set on a Gold medal.
The speed they came past me on the last lap was unbelievable, the lead changed about 6 times in the last few miles and I remember trying to imagine the pain in their legs and the burning in their lungs, but as Emil Zatopek famously said “An athlete cannot run with money in his pockets, only with dreams in his head and hope in his heart“.
Jaroslav Kulhavy achieved his dream on the 12th August 2012 to beat the World Champion and to become Olympic Gold Medalist.
World Champion Schurter pursued by Kulhavy Gold Medalist
One rider who deserves a special mention is Adrien Niyonshuti from Rwanda, for him, just getting to the Olympic Games as a competitor was worth more than a dozen Gold Medals.
Niyonshuti comes into the pits
Niyonshuti was 7 years old when the ethnic majority Hutu tribe started to massacre the minority Tutsis. The rampage lasted 100 days, from April to July 1994. Niyonshuti’s six brothers were among the dead. He survived after hiding in the bush for a week with his parents. For some athletes just showing up is glory enough.
That’s not to say he was there to make up the numbers, far from it, he was only 10 minutes behind the World and Olympic Champion, his story will always be a source of inspiration for me.
My Photo’s and words in the Leicester Mercury