Even before Alison Williamson gets to march in the Opening Ceremony on Friday night, with her finger nails painted in the red, white and blue of the Union Jack – she will have entered the Olympic record books.
One event takes place in London on same day as the grand opening and at the Nursery End at Lord's on Friday lunchtime the 40-year-old Shropshire native will be taking part in the traditional ranking competition that precedes the knockout stages of the individual and team archery events.
In doing so, she will become only the third British Olympian to have taken part in six Olympic Games, following the fencer Bill Hoskyns and the javelin thrower Tessa Sanderson – although the feat will also be accomplished by three day eventer Mary King and show jumper Nick Skelton as the Games unfold. "I think there is a general trend of people continuing their sporting careers for longer," Williamson reflected yesterday, speaking at Team GB House in Stratford. "I don't really think about it being my sixth Games. It's only when people mention it.
"My first Games were in Barcelona in 1992 and I was completely overawed. I'd never experienced anything like Olympic Village life before. What stands out here is actually the landscape. It's incredible. There are proper trees.
"It sounds silly but I went for a jog round by the Wetlands today it's beautiful. You're in East London and people mocked the Games coming here. Now I just think, 'Wow, this is really incredible'."
Williamson's own Oympian roots go deeper than the Barcelona Games of twenty years ago. She's a native of Church Stretton, 13 miles from Much Wenlock, the market town where Dr William Penney Brookes founded the Wenlock Olympian Games in 1850. It was after visiting the Wenlock Games in 1890 that Baron Pierre de Coubertin was inspired to revive the ancient Olympic Games on Greek soil six years later. Williamson learned to shoot as a member of the Long Mynd Archers in Church Stretton; her parents, Tom and Sue are long time officials at the club and will be working behind the scenes at Lord's as Olympic Volunteers. In 1981, at the age of ten, she won a silver medal at the Wenlock Olympian Games,
In 2004 she won a bronze medal at the Olympic Games, in the awe- inspiring setting of the Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens, the marble arena that was the centrepiece of the first modern Games in 1896. It was a hard-earned medal, coming after a nail- biting match with Sun Chi Yuan of Chinese Taipei – and four years after the bitter disappointment of Sydney.
Williamson was strongly fancied to win a medal at the 2000 Games until she encountered the formidable Yun Mi-Yin in the last 16. The 17-year-old South Koreran produced a near perfect display and went on to take the gold medal. Williamson was reduced to tears – as she was in Beijing in 2008 when the British women's team lost the bronze medal match by a point, a contest played out to dramatic backdrop of thunder and lightning. "To come so close to a medal in Beijing was gut -wrenching," she reflected. "It took a long time to get my head round it and accept it and move on. That's life sometimes. You don't always win."
Geena Davis, an old acquaintance of Williamson, would no doubt concur. An Oscar winner for her performance in The Accidental Tourist in 1998, the Hollywood star competed in the US archery trials for the 2000 Olympics, reaching the semi-finals. As a consolation, she was given a wildcard entry to the Golden Arrow tournament in Sydney, losing 160-120 to Williamson in the first round.
Williamson herself was in the running for the lead role of flag bearer in Friday's Opening Ceremony, losing out to Sir Chris Hoy. "I knew I was on the shortlist," she said. "It was an honour to be named on it. It's great that Chris Hoy will be carrying the flag. He's a great ambassador for British sport."
The same can be said of Williamson, who embraced the Olympic spirit even after her bitter disappointment in Beijing, taking in as many sports as she could as a spectator-cum-supporter, athletics, swimming, gymnastics, basketball, hockey and tennis.
It is fair to assume that she was not quite as raucous as the 1,000 local junior school pupils who were invited to attend the final British archery selection competition for 2012 at Lilleshall and told to make as much noise as possible – to help the archers cope with the kind of conditions that unsettled some at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi two years ago.
"I had an eight-year-old child screaming at the top of their lungs right in my face," Williamson, a former primary school teacher, recalled. "I might have given them a little look."
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