Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tall Girl on...sporting success

A couple of years ago I saw an advert in the newspaper for "The Sporting Giants of London 2012". Intrigued, I discovered that the British Olympic Committee were looking for tall people - of unproven sporting ability - to become the superstars of the 2012 Olympics. Gold medals flashed up instantaneously on my eyeballs and I went to the website to find out more.

To qualify girls had to be a minimum of 5ft 11" - tick. They had to be under 25 years - tick. And they didn't have to be experienced in any of the sports in question, namely volleyball, handball and rowing - definite tick. I clicked on the application form to see what else was required. Where was the catch? Starting to fill in my details, I was confident that I was just the physical goldmine that Seb & Co had been hoping to unearth.

However, my enthusiasm waned when I was forced to detail my sporting record. As a list, without the embellishment of adjectives, it was depressingly substandard. "List the sports that you have played to a) County b) Regional c) National d) International level" it demanded. Hmmm, where does the Gore Court Ladies Hockey team fit in? There were only two teams and I was in the second one, on a good day. Humiliatingly we were the only team that got relegated to the grass pitch on a regular basis - even the Boys Under-8s were considered more impressive.

Going back a bit, when I was 13 I did once go to County netball trials...but my name wasn't read out and I never got to wear the hoodie. So if we're being strict about this box ticking thing I couldn't honestly say I'd "played" at County level. But then Kent's a big county and, had I perchance been born in Rutland, I might have had more of a chance. Having failed to receive a County call-up I then diverted my efforts to hockey - at least that involved boys. My school was oestrogen only so I became a very diligent attendee at hockey club training sessions and Saturday matches. Yet despite being a die-hard supporter of the Men's 1st XI, and sometimes even the 2nds too, I picked up none of their skills and soon learnt it was better to keep my sporting attempts out of sight of potential admirers.

Contemplating the form once again, I racked my brains for other glimmers of sporting success. I won the infants' running race at sports day two years running. I was reasonably successful at riding but the committee didn't seem much interested in horses. I once did a trampolining competition (maybe that was County level?) but broke my nose during a somersault a few weeks later and quit. I did row for a while at university - that was relevant experience - but despite training like a Duracell bunny plugged to the mains, I only went in a boat twice in two terms so gave up. My final competitive effort was mixed hockey for a university intra-mural team, but I was more successful as the Social Secretary than in the goalmouth. So although one of my cross-dressing themed training sessions lured a whole men's rugby team to join the club, dramatically boosting numbers, I failed to make the touring side.

So, my Olympics form looked a little like this:

County sports - none

Regional sports - none

National sports - none

International sports - none

Maybe I wasn't quite the winner they were looking for.

I decided to give up on my latest grand plan for international fame and tried to exit the site. Having only filled in the first half of the form - personal details and some feeble sporting efforts - I accidentally pressed SUBMIT. It appeared to be the only way to exit the site but now the poor people on the committee would have to plough through my woeful application. How embarassing I thought, and promptly forgot all about it.

Several weeks later, a fat letter arrived through the door of my London flat announcing that I had been selected to attend Olympic Sporting Giants rowing trials on one of five dates of my choosing. Gobsmacked, I read on - bring sports kit, energy drinks and be prepared to be pushed to the limit. Envisaging being yelled at by a spit-showering do-or-die coach, turning more and more purple before eventually collapsing over my ergo machine, I felt pretty unenthusiastic about the whole thing.
I never wanted to win gold for rowing - you have to sell your soul to training, mess about with boats in all weathers and end up with shoulders like padded coathangers. No, what I'd imagined all along was a successful career for myself in volleyball, preferably of the beach kind. It takes place in rather sunnier climes and the players are considered fit in both senses of the word. It's an awesome game too. I played obsessively during a two week trekking trip to the French Alps with a group of male friends who re-enacted the Top Gun volleyball scene - without, they insisted, any homosexual undertones - every afternoon.

So, disappointed not to have been given a chance at my chosen sport, I politely declined the invitation to humiliate myself at Olympic trials. At 5ft 11" I was the minimum height required and at 24, the maximum age allowed. In short, I was too small and too old to be Britain's next Sporting Giant. Seb, mate, you missed out.

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