Diary of an Olympian: 'It's an out-of-body experience, being on the podium'
Etienne Stott, who won Britain's first canoeing Olympic gold medal with Tim Baillie on Thursday, describes his week to Emily Dugan
Emily Dugan is social affairs correspondent for The Independent, i and Independent on Sunday. She was previously a news reporter for The Independent on Sunday. Her investigations into human trafficking have twice been awarded Best Investigative Article at the Anti-Slavery Day Media Awards and her human rights journalism was shortlisted for the Gaby Rado Memorial prize at the 2012 Amnesty Media Awards.
Sunday 05 August 2012
Saturday I wake up at the hotel we've been in for the last week, which is 10 minutes from the course. Today is about relaxing and preparing for our heats tomorrow. We do video analysis and watch the runs live at the venue, and do a warm-up to make sure we're loose and limber. I'm reading Game of Thrones at the minute; it's great for taking your mind off it.
We watch a bit of the Olympics until enough is enough and it all gets a bit scary. It's awesome to be a part of it, but it can be overwhelming.
Monday Our heats day. It is massive. We do our run, which is very good and we come in third, so we are pretty clear we will do well. We analyse the run to see on video if we could go any faster, then work out if we could. In the second heat we come fourth after a couple of mistakes.
It is a nerve-racking day because we want to make a good start and know four boats are being knocked out and are desperate that one of them isn't us.
Tuesday After a long session with our coach, watching the video and working out what we are doing, we watch the canoe singles category because you can get some information from there. We also watch the final live at the venue because it is just awesome to see. It is quite cool and a little bit nerve-racking at the same time to see that it really is the Olympics and medals will be awarded.
Wednesday The night before the race, we sit together as a crew and we know where we're going to be going at each stage. It's like setting a train on to a track and once you start, that's it.
I speak to my girlfriend in the evening and text my parents, but I try to keep them all at arms' length so I focus on what I am doing. You don't always feel like talking; sometimes with family and girlfriend, you feel a bit torn and conflicted.
Thursday After a mental warm-up to get my head in the right place, we warm up in the water, starting gently then going through intense sprints. I eat a big fat peanut butter and jam sandwich and it's time for the race. You don't have the time and head space to be too nervous - there's an overriding task that keeps you occupied, which is planning and working out where we want the boat at each section of the white water.
We are very clear on what we are focused on and what we want to do. The crowd washes through you like a ghost: you feel it and you know it and you use it, but you don't let it distract you.
The reason we plan so carefully is so we will have a very similar way of looking at everything and our paddling instinct is the same, so we don't lose any precious oxygen.
We are the first to go in the final and we sit at the finish line watching the different crews coming in. Each time people come down, we think, oh, we're guaranteed fifth, then fourth, then we realise we are in line for a medal. I can't believe it when we have GB for one-two.
It is very strange to be there. The crowd goes absolutely crazy. If I'd been in the stands watching British people getting a medal it would have been more real. I am so dazed, I remember the sun on my face and the national anthem, but it doesn't feel like me. It is like an out-of-body experience.
We are whisked straight from the venue into London to do the BBC and then go back to our hotel at 12.30am near the venue. I have my medal on all night. At the hotel everyone is partying – even the RAF regiment guys who guard the venue are joining in. Everyone in that room has played some sort of part in it – it is incredible.
Friday My hand is hurting this morning from all the people I shook hands with. I get to bed at about 3am and then get up at 6am to go back into London to do more media stuff. It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance for us and our sport to get in the public eye. We love canoeing, and if we can spread the love, then brilliant. We move into the Olympic Village, which is really special.
Saturday This morning on the way down I bumped into Mo Farah in the lift. He obviously looked a bit nervous and tense. I told him: "Take it easy, man: the British public adore you."
It's good to be properly reunited with my girlfriend again. Georgie and I have been together four years. But juggling the demands of a relationship with those of the sport can be tough. There are little compromises and the business I'm in can be very self-absorbing.
We have a whole clutch of media stuff to do today. I have not checked either Facebook or my emails since the start of the heat, so my computer is in danger of exploding. Now that my Games are over, I might finally get around to signing up to Twitter. And there'll hopefully be a few more drinks tonight.
Tomorrow we're going on a speedboat riding up the Thames. I really do feel like I'm living the dream at the moment. Something on this scale may never happen to me again. I just hope that however my life changes, I can stay true to who I am. Because much of that is what got me here in the first place.
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