Where Do I Fit In?
by Andrew Foote
Throughout this story real organisations and real people are mentioned by name. Their place in the tale is in the author's imagination. No thoughts, words or deeds attributed to those people or organisations are real, nor have they ever happened. This is a story! It's fiction. The people and organisations, even when they interact with the characters, are presented in an entirely imagined and fictitious manner, and no discourtesy is intended to them by the author nor by the web site.
We walked into a packed arena. The crowds were enormous with every seat taken. Fellow competitors lined up poolside almost blocking Liam's view but none of them hoping we'd fuck up, maybe just looking for that one mistake that might leave them ahead of us but even they clapped us by way of support.
Our names and the country we were representing was announced and we started the climb up to the high table.
We reached the top and as per the instructions, we dunked our feet into a large tray of recirculating chlorinated water then stepped into another tray of fine sand which should prevent us from slipping on the already damaged surface of the table. At this point we again found ourselves oblivious to the outside world only concentrating on the job in hand.
We walked to the edge of the table, turned with our backs to the pool, looked at each other, briefly touched hands, bent our knees and launched ourselves into our dive.
Three backward somersaults, two and a half twists and three forward somersaults leaving us barely enough time to straighten out as we entered the water.
Again, we instinctively knew the dive was good. We could always tell if it had gone well or if we'd miss cued it but this time there was little doubt that we had produced something very special and as we broke surface, the entire crowd were on their feet clapping and cheering.
We were helped from the water by the Korean couple who also then stood back and clapped us. Liam was ecstatic!
"That was nothing short of brilliant! I'm very, very proud of both of you and you must be in the medals given that performance so get dried and get your tracksuits on double quick!"
Our scores came through. Four tens, one nine and gold!
I was crying even before we reached the podium, Lucas not far behind me as we took up our places and the medals handed out.
I managed to mouth the words to the National Anthem but totally lost it when I saw the Union Jack hoisted up to the top of the highest flagpole.
Following the medal ceremony came the photo shoots and endless interviews. We didn't really mind these although some of the questions were silly like being asked how it felt to be gold medal winners and such but there was always going to be that one question that would put us on the back foot. This came from an American reporter from the New York Times.
"Winning gold is seen by many athletes as reaching the pinnacle of their sporting ambitions but given that you are still only sixteen, where do you see yourselves going from here?"
Lucas and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. The fact was, we hadn't given any thought to it so Lucas answered truthfully.
"To be honest, up until now all the preparation and training has been geared towards us focusing on these games and doing the best we could. If we'd not been amongst the medals or even if we'd come away with bronze or silver, there would have been a desire to go back home and concentrate our efforts on the 2020 games but now we must think about defending gold rather than attacking a greater prize."
"And will you be defending it or will you quit while you're ahead?"
I answered this one.
"That's something we'll have to discuss with our coaching team. It's not something we've given any thought to so for now we'll go back to England, maybe take some holiday and consider our next move."
The next forty-eight hours flew by filled with parties, formal engagements, more photo calls and interviews but then we found ourselves on the flight home.
We both felt subdued almost as if anything else we might manage to achieve would always seem like an anti-climax. We carried a huge responsibility on our shoulders with everyone reminding us that in our chosen discipline, right at that moment we were the best in the world. Our ages meant that we were the youngest gold medal winners at the games and just that fact alone had thrust us firmly under the spotlight with the world's media keeping a watchful eye on us.
Tom, Benny, Paul and Lorain had each come away with medals, Tom a silver, Benny a silver, Lor a silver and Paul a bronze so we all stuck together, safety in numbers almost!
We had a brief but welcome stop-over at San Francisco where many of our fellow competitors took to other flights leaving only the five of us plus our families and coaching staff together with regular passengers to board the flight to Heathrow and home. About an hour before we were due to land we changed into our Team GB uniform which consisted of grey trousers, black shoes and socks, a white dress shirt and tie which was dark blue and sported the three lion emblem matching the dark blue blazer, also with the same logo embroidered on the breast pocket. I looked at myself in the mirror and I felt an enormous sense of pride. Ordinary boring me had not only represented his country at the Olympics, he was bringing home a gold medal.
I walked through and took my seat beside Lucas who grinned at me.
"I'm rather looking forward to getting home. It's been exciting and everything but it would be nice to get back into a routine and have that feeling of normality."
Liam, who was sat directly in front of us, turned to us and tried to look serious.
"I think you'll find that normality as you put it is a while away yet."
Lucas raised an eyebrow.
"How so? Surely the heat's off us now?"
"Fat chance of that! I anything, it's only just begun. They'll be civic receptions you'll be expected to attend, more TV and press interviews, demonstration events, school visits, the list goes on. You will more than likely be invited to a reception at ten Downing Street, politicians love to be photographed alongside success and then you will probably be invited to a reception at the Palace to meet the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh."
"Oh shit no! I think I'd pass out if I were to meet the Queen!"
"No you wouldn't! I've had the honour of meeting her on several occasions and I can assure you, she's nothing at all like the image she portrays in public. You'll find her very relaxed and wonderful conversation. Prince Philip is a hoot! Granted, his sense of humour isn't to everyone's liking but I promise you this, if you do meet him, you'll really like him so don't go wetting yourself at the prospect. With anything like this, there's a way of getting yourself through it and that is, keep reminding yourself that whether or not you're talking to the Prime Minister, the Queen or just some local dignitaries, you can do something they can't and that is compete in the world's biggest arena, against the finest athletes on the planet and come away with a medal."
"I never thought of it like that. Very clever! We'd better keep on top of dry cleaning these uniforms then."
"You'll be given a couple more so you can rotate them, in fact they'll most likely be waiting for you when you get home but first we have to get you through immigration control and meet the press again."
On landing at Heathrow we were ushered through Immigration and passport control. A porter had been organised to collect our baggage and so it was we walked through into the arrival lounge and a whole host of photographers and TV crews who were waiting for us. The attention was not all about the five of us, we were told that most of the UK athletes would be arriving back during the day and the press would hang around in an attempt to get interviews and photos of all the medallists. We declined to be interviewed at Liam's request but posed together for group photos before being led away by security people to a rather remote area of the concourse. We had time for a cup of tea or coffee before three private hire cars arrived presumably to get us home.
This wasn't the case however because the next thing we knew was a brief journey across West London arriving at RAF Northolt in Middlesex where we were split into two groups and boarded military helicopters which flew us to Staverton Airport midway between Cheltenham and Gloucester.
None of us with the exception of Gregg had ever flown in a helicopter before and whilst it was exciting, it was bloody noisy but way better than hiking it down the M4 then up the M5 motorways to Gloucester, much quicker too!
Mum had phoned forward to ask our next door neighbour to open up the house and fire up the central heating both in the main house and in our flat so as to take the chill off the place and that evening, instead of going our separate ways, everyone was invited to stay over for a private party.
It was good to be home, I never realised how much I missed the place. To be able to draw the curtains and block the world outside was something of a luxury.
Lucas fired up his laptop and studied our website then started to laugh.
"Come over here Andy. This you have to see!"
I sat down beside him as he scrolled through the countless dozens of congratulatory messages but pointing out some which offered proposals of marriage, not just from girls but also quite a number of boys!
Some of the messages verged on the pornographic or at least very suggestive which made me giggle, obviously these wouldn't be replied to but anyway it was nice to understand just how many people had followed us as only a fraction of them would've gone to the trouble of posting a message.
Liam had suggested that we didn't train the following morning. He thought it unnecessary but if we fancied getting together for a little light exercise in the evening then we were to call him.
We all of us discussed this and given that we craved getting back to a routine, we elected to go in.
Dad wanted to run us in by car then pick us up later but while we could understand his reasoning, to keep us away from the media or from fans, this wasn't normality so we declined opting to jog it as before. We did end up agreeing not to wear our SCGB trackies so as not to draw attention to ourselves and obviously when the others arrived sporting much the same attire, their parents had also thought it wise for them to do the same.
Training was light and very enjoyable and following some exercising we played various games such as Volleyball and an improvised game of tennis before walking out to the pool.
What we saw there was hilarious! Two little boys, no older than seven or eight were standing by the edge of the diving pool. We both watched as they shuffled sideways, looked at each other, touched hands before throwing themselves into the water making no effort to enter the pool gracefully. It was a true belly-flop which must have stung, their legs apart and their heads up but it looked really cute. They were trying to copy our style like how all Rugby players now adopt Jonny Wilkinson's pose, his hands clasped together in front of him, his body slightly leaning forward as he concentrated on a try conversion.
They saw us watching them and yelled at us not to move as they ran towards the changing rooms reappearing moments later with their kit bags.
"Please please may we have your autographs?"
We both smiled at them.
"Sure thing. Wait there and I'll go find a marker pen."
Liam came up with a permanent marker and we signed both of their bags once we had discovered their names. 'To Harry. Carry on diving mate! Andy Pope and Lucas Carmichael, 29/10/2016' and the same message on Carl's.
They were just so excited and for the remainder of the evening, despite protests from their parents, they sat by the side of the pool and watched us.
Just before it was time to get changed and get back home, Lucas whistled to them and once he had their attention shouted,
"This last dive is just for you guys okay?"
They nodded their heads furiously.
Without any discussion, no big surprise there, we replicated our final dive of the Olympics, climbed out of the pool, waved goodbye and went to get changed.
Liam followed us through.
"That was a really nice gesture. Carry on like that and you'll have everyone eating out of the palms of your hands! Tomorrow morning then?"
Schooling had become rather fragmented for all of us so there were discussions between Mr Fairbairn, the SCGB and our folks and a compromise reached. So far as possible, we would attend classes as normal but when we had to attend outside functions or make visits then the same electronic methods would be made available to us as was the case when we were in Guam.
This was probably more important for Benny. We had already sat our ordinary level exams as had Lor and Paul but he had yet to do them. Trust me, you either had to really love your sport or school work or both in order to get through the day. Our fears of an anti-climax never came to anything, we were too busy to notice, the time passed too quickly.
We did our first ever school visit.
We were asked to do a presentation followed by a question and answer session at one of the local primary schools and not really having a clue what was expected of us, we didn't prepare anything short of some video footage of our training regime and diving practice starting with our early poolside dives then progressing through to some complex manoeuvres.
I really shouldn't have worried, it all went so well!
We arrived to be greeted by the Head Teacher, a delightful man called Tim Emmerson. He took us through to his office where he offered us some coffee while the other teachers filed the kids in to their assembly hall.
"We've set up an overhead projector for you and a gizmo you can plug your laptop into as I was led to believe you might have some video footage you might want to show. Is there anything else you might need? If so then I'll see what I can do."
"No that's great Mr Emmerson. The projector is fine, the rest of it is just to try and engage with the kids really."
Lucas was loving this! I could almost feel his need to get started and I knew that he'd be the leader here with me as his foil!
Mr Emmerson walked us through and up onto the stage then held up his hands for silence.
"Okay boys and girls? It is my pleasure to introduce to you, our two Olympic champions, Lucas Carmichael and Andy Pope. Please welcome them to our school."
Hand claps and shouting greeted us but then Lucas held up his hand and instantly the noise subsided.
"Hi everyone! Is everybody happy?"
There were a few nervous giggles but that was about it.
"Oh please? I'll cry if you're not happy? One more time then. Is everybody happy?"
This time it couldn't have been more different. Those kids almost raised the roof!
"Better, loads better but you lot down on the left there, more volume please! Is everybody happy?"
Oh my God! Lucas was playing these kids like an orchestra and they were seriously following his baton. The noise was deafening but instead of asking for quiet, he let them get it out of their systems.
"Hey! Now that is what I call a welcome! Absolutely fantastic! Oh……..please don't mind Andy here? He's okay once you get to know him honest! I joke. He's my best ever friend and I love him to bits.
Now I realise that Mr Emmerson probably doesn't normally allow you to make such a racket but here's a little secret, don't go telling him but yes, we did win gold the other week but guess what? We're kids just like you! Big kids maybe but we go to school, our teachers tell us what to do, our parents are always checking to see whether or not we've done our homework so don't feel shy? We're just the same as you only older and uglier!"
The kids laughed out loud at this and whatever nervousness they felt before was now a thing of the past, even Mr Emmerson who had taken a seat on the opposite side of the stage was laughing into his hands.
We'd both of us noticed two young lads sitting in the middle of the hall, conspicuous as they were clutching hold of their sports bags.
Lucas let me continue.
"Hello people. Lucas is a touch gobby as you might've realised but I guess we can forgive him right?"
I got a major laugh from this which also put me in the mood.
"I see somewhere out there a Messer's Rolland and Spires. Come on guys, show your faces afterall we're not strangers?"
Two red faced and embarrassed little boys raised their hand.
"Great stuff. Can you come up here for a minute? There's something I'd like you to do for us. It's dead easy and it won't hurt I promise."
I got the feeling that they would've rather stayed put but their classmates urged them forward and when they reached the front of the stage I helped them up and tried to put them at their ease. Lucas smiled, instinctively knowing what I had in mind as the two lads mounted the stage.
We were wearing our Team GB trackies and underneath our tops we were wearing our medals. Lucas came and stood behind Harry and I took up position behind Carl. We partially unzipped our tops and removing our medals, placed them around the necks of the boys.
"Now we'd like you to go back down and show them to everyone who wants to take a look but please don't go losing them!"
The expression on their faces was pure classic! I helped them from the stage and watched as they scooted off and into the throng of their friends and schoolmates. Here Lucas took over as I set the computer to play some of the footage.
"Okay guys. Now I would like you to look at this really embarrassing bit of video! Here's Andy and I during our first ever dive training. Yeah those two skinny runts right there by the pool! We were only twelve and we began by doing real kiddie stuff like you see here but you have to understand it's importance however I won't go boring you with all of that.
To get to a level of fitness demanded by our coaches meant lots of hard work in the gym and in the water so please take a look at what we had to do."
I played the video which sort of raced through some of the early work followed by some dives then back to the gym and that night when Alec pushed us to our limits.
"Yeah well, as you can see it was no walk in the park but just have a look at the difference it made. We went from being two average kids to what you see here on the screen in a matter of a month.
Who here loves food?"
Amongst the hands that shot up was a little girl seated three rows back. Lucas singled her out. She was a really pretty little thing who would no doubt one day be a real looker like Lor.
"Okay sweetheart? What's your favourite food?"
I couldn't make out her reply but Lucas did.
"Jelly and ice cream? Yummy but not very nutritious babe! Take a look at this. Not our biggest meal of the day, Andy will show you that in a minute. This is a typical lunch for us."
I hit return and a photo of a massive salad appeared on the overhead screen.
"Rather a lot isn't it but to make us big and strong we have to eat loads. It has to be all of the good stuff if it's going to help us. Now Andy will show you what we eat every day before bedtime!"
Again I hit return and a huge quantity of food, steak, prawns, smoked haddock, salad, jacket potatoes and various other cold meats were displayed.
The children looked amazed.
"Yeah and we follow that with suet pudding like spotted dick or jam roly-poly! Not good unless you burn it all off!
Now rather than bore your brains out, we both want you to think about something.
You've seen how we went from being two scrawny kids to Olympic gold medallists in what, three and a half years? What I'm trying to say is, if you have a dream then follow it, give it your all, don't let anything deter you. Talk to your rents, your teachers, just make the most of yourselves however you see yourselves, sporting or otherwise but follow that dream!"
I knew Lucas as well as I knew myself but the shear passion of his speech even took me by surprise.
He went on to conclude and opened the door for questions.
There were lots of them which again came as a surprise. Young kids were normally very shy but he had got them on his side to the point where eventually Mr Emmerson had to call a halt.
Once the kids had been taken back to their classrooms, we were invited back to his study for another coffee and a chat.
"I had no idea quite what to expect but that was a fantastic talk you gave. The children loved every moment of it, I did too! Lucas? You should think about teaching as a career option!"
"I'd love it Mr Emmerson. I love kids, I sort of relate to them somehow. I couldn't teach seniors, too many kids like me around for comfort but elementary, sorry primary school kids? They have to be the single most important resource on the planet! They are the future of civilisation, future engineers, scientists, politicians, doctors and academics. What greater privilege can there possibly be but to have the opportunity to mould young minds like a lump of clay, to kneed them, shape their way of thinking, form them into something special that'll make our world a better place."
"If I were interviewing for a teaching post right now, you'd get the position! Seriously now, get your advanced, go to University or just teacher training college. You have the ability to carry the kid's enthusiasm along with you and that's a rare talent.
It's been so nice to meet you both and you're welcome here anytime."
I'm sure you agree that we can't leave them there. Move on, now, to the second and final part, Fitting In
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