Roger Black: Village life is a social swirl with little sleep

Inside an athlete's mind...
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The Independent Online

In the days before the track-and-field programme started at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, I didn't see Michael Johnson, the No 1 contender in my event, the 400m. There was never any chance of bumping into Michael in the athletes' village because he didn't stay there.

Michael had a big burden of expectation on his shoulders at those Olympics, so he very much kept himself to himself. I have no problem with that. A lot of athletes like to do that. It's not uncommon.

What matters is that you do what's right for you. Some people stay out of the village. Others love being there.

Daley Thompson loved the village. He loved being one of the boys, having a banter. He thrived in that environment.

The village is an environment you can thrive in, but it can be a distraction. You are surrounded by athletes from all over the world, from different sports. There's food on tap. There's entertainment on tap.

It's noisy. There's a lot of nervous energy in there. Some people excel in that environment. Others find it very difficult.

I enjoyed it. I was lucky. I had my friends with me, so it was normal. I had Kriss Akabusi with me and Jon Ridgeon. These were close friends of mine, so it was fun.

But if you don't know many people, it can be different. I used to share with Kriss and he snored like a trooper. But the reality is when you get into the Olympic village you're not going to get a lot of great sleep. It's not a great environment for sleep, I don't think. You have to deal with it and adapt to it.

I think the ones who deal with it are the ones who know that it's going to be different. They just get on with it. And that's part of the game. Yeah, it's a strange environment, but you have to make it work for you. You mustn't forget that it's an inspirational place to be too. You're not going to get a great night's sleep but oh my gosh, from the moment you wake up till the moment you do go to sleep you're surrounded by Olympic athletes, people winning medals. You know where you are, you know what you're there to do. And that revs you up. I always enjoyed the village. I never had a problem with it.

I think there's a balance. You do what works for you. If you want to hide, if you want to get yourself away, there'll be ways to do that.

One thing I never did was go to an opening ceremony as an athlete. I never considered it either. The thought of standing around for six hours when you're there to win medals would have not made sense. I would have not been in the vicinity of the stadium anyway at the start of the Games because the athletics always starts later in the Olympic programme.

I remember watching Muhammad Ali light the flame in 1996 sitting at the athletics team holding camp in Tallahassee, Florida, thinking, "Wow, I'm going to be in that stadium in a week's time." It's inspiring but it's pageantry. It's not what the track-and-field athletes are there to do.

I agree with the decision to take the British athletics team out of the country and keep them away from the opening ceremony. The athletics programme doesn't start until Friday. I'm sure home advantage will be a factor at these Games, but being at home at this time for the athletics team would be 100 times more distracting.

You are going to the Games to do a job. You need to stay as focused as possible.

Roger Black will be writing for 'The Independent', 'The Independent on Sunday' and the Evening Standard during the Games and is an ambassador for Scottish Widows, the official pensions and investments provider for the London 2012 Olympic Games. As part of the Lloyds Banking Group, Scottish Widows is proud to be an Official Provider of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games

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