Tessa Sanderson: I won gold - but having the Olympic Games in my home town is something else

 

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Finally, the Games are here – and I still have to pinch myself to believe they are happening. As an adopted Londoner – I live in east London and work in the Olympic heartland of Newham – my emotions today as the curtain goes up are a mixture of excitement, immense pride, and great anticipation. The goose bumps have already started.

I am so pleased that in my lifetime the Olympics have come here. It will be quite emotional for me because I’ve managed to get a ticket for my mum to watch the javelin, the event I won. She’s never been to an Olympics before, it will be fantastic for her.

I have that same tingly feeling that ran through my bones when I stepped off the team bus for my first Olympics in Montreal. Was that really 36 years ago?

I competed in those and the next five in succession, winning my gold medal in Los Angeles in 1984. But these Games in London bring a sense of fulfilment I never thought possible.

What the Games mean to an athlete really came home again to me this week when I visited the Olympic Village. This young foreign athlete came up to me and asked if I had a pin to exchange. She had that same sense of wonderment about being there as I had all those years ago.

Being an Olympian is something you never get blasé about, however many times you compete.

I have seen these Games grow from their inception as I was involved with the original bid. Now it is all for real and I can’t wait.

What delights me is that London 2012 is a watershed for equality.

Women now compete in every event. When I first started you could virtually count us on the fingers of two hands in international competition because promoters said we wouldn’t fill a phone booth. Look at us now.

More than half the British team are female and several like Jess Ennis, Rebecca Adlington and Victoria Pendleton are some of our biggest gold medal hopes. This has been one of the biggest changes in the last quarter of a century.

These Games have transformed Newham, it has given the place a new zest of life. It really does feel like the heartland of the Games. And Stratford has been turned into a little star city.

That twinge of nerves will start to set in once the athletes set foot in a Village that is the best I’ve seen. It is a home from home, unlike some I have been in. In Montreal there were six of us in one room.

There will be that same mixture of apprehension, excitement and anticipation as there was for me. What they must do is seek out a few serene moments they can have to themselves.

And because these Games are at home our athletes can be in touch with their friends and family – the British Olympic Association even has a room in Team GB House where they can meet up with their nearest and dearest afterwards, a super idea.

When I won my gold medal in Los Angeles I was desperate to speak to my mum and family back in Wolverhampton. But there were not mobile phones in those days, no texting or tweeting, nothing like Facebook, just a postcard home.

We were given a phone card, and there was one phone to a block and we all had to wait our turn in the queue to call home.

My only disappointment is a personal one. I have never been given an official role since we won the bid, apparently never considered for one. I don’t know why.

The fact is I’ve done six consecutive Olympics, I’m the only British athlete to have won a throwing gold medal, and the first black woman to win gold in any event.

What upsets me is that I feel I have much to offer and I have worked here in the heart of Stratford bringing so many young athletes through, yet the Organising Committee didn’t seem to want to know. But life moves on and this does certainly not detract from the great passion I have for these Games. I’ll be at the opening ceremony tonight, looking at things from the other side.

I think GB will win a lot of medals and do at least as well, if not better, as we did in Beijing. People will be surprised and delighted and in the end they will say that whatever the hassles, whatever the heartache, it has all been worth it.

My gold medal is my proudest possession. I have taken it out to show people so many times, especially when I visit schools, that the gold is wearing a bit thin. It has been dropped so many times it is a little dented. But who cares, it still inspires.

I’ll be cheering like mad for lots of British victories because I know how it feels when you can hold up that gold medal on the rostrum and say, “Hey Britain, this is for you”. It’s a wonderful feeling. There’s nothing else like it.

Tessa Sanderson, six times an Olympian, won javelin gold in 1984. She now runs the Tessa Sanderson Foundation in Newham.

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