MAKING A SPLASH: with Olympic Swimmer Melissa Ingram
London puts on a great show
Olympic Swimmer Melissa Ingram is a regular contributor to Channel Magazine. As well as being a world class swimmer, Melissa is a budding writer, with plans to move into journalism when she finally hangs up the togs. Melissa shares her London 2012 Olympic experience with Channel readers.
It’s hard to know where to start when writing about my Olympic experience. Since returning home people ask me to tell them all about it, but the reality is that I could be there all day. I must admit that the London Olympics was not as special as the Beijing Olympics for me. I think your first Olympic Games is always a very special time where everything is new and exciting. I went into London knowing what to expect and the host city met those expectations. They put on a great show!
The New Zealand team has a very special way of welcoming its team members into the village with a haka. This welcome became somewhat of a tourist attraction within the village, with people from all over the world hustling to get a photo and a gawk when the haka was performed. After the haka each member of the swimming team was presented with a handcrafted pounamu. Every member of the New Zealand Olympic Team was given a pounamu and they were all made from the same piece of greenstone to bind us together as a team and give us strength.
The accommodation was good. Each country had their own apartment tower and within the Kiwi tower there was predominantly one sport per floor. Each floor had five apartments with various room configurations. The bottom floor of our tower was NZ headquarters with medical rooms, massage, physiotherapy, management and a chill out area for the athletes to socialise and relax on beanbags in front of the television. We were even lucky enough to have our own coffee machine and coffee beans to perfect our coffee making skills.
I have been to three Commonwealth Games and two Olympic Games and the London dining hall topped the lot. By a lot. It was enormous and had every type of food you can imagine. Western, Asian, Indian, African, Caribbean, British favourites and of course McDonalds, with a McCafe attached. An area that I frequented far too much after I finished competing! The quality of food was outstanding. Normally in a village environment the food is quite bland because it is cooked in bulk portions, but London offered high quality food items such as sushi and cheeseboards.
The swimming pool was amazing! I was the fourth swimmer and anchor for the 4x200m freestyle relay so I had a moment to sit behind the blocks and look up into the stands filled with 20,000 people, it was an amazing feeling. The crowd was great in London, they really got behind all the swimmers, especially their own. The roar for the British swimmers was incredible, you nearly had to block your ears it was that loud. The excitement and buzz that surrounds an Olympic Games is so much fun. It’s almost surreal to think how many people around the world are watching your race, and I must admit that I try to block it out and focus on the task at hand, otherwise it would be far too daunting and the pressure would mount.
My performance at the London Olympics was a mixed bag. I went from ecstasy to agony within a day and that is quite typical for an athlete competing in multiple events at the Olympic Games. Nobody knows what will happen at an Olympics and London proved that time and time again in swimming. World champions didn’t progress past the heats while unknown rookies stepped up to win medals. The 4x200m freestyle relay was on day five and I had so much fun competing with my team-mates, breaking the New Zealand Record and narrowly missing out on the final. I swam the fastest that I had ever swum and I was excited for my main event the following day.
Everything had been looking good in training for my backstroke events. I had been swimming personal best times in training and had a huge load of work behind me. I thought I had paced my heat swim well and was surprised to touch and see that I was a second outside my best. There were two more heats to go after mine and my heart was in my mouth as I waited to see if I had done enough to progress to the semi-finals. I spoke to the media in a fog of disbelief and then walked behind the diving boards to wait for the final result. 17th. By .03 of a second over 200m! How do you even measure that?! It was heartbreaking and hard to speak to further media as I progressed through what we call the “Mixed Zone”. A winding path lined with journalists all looking for a story. I was thankful they didn’t write anything nasty about me, because I had made the mistake of reading an article the day before by a journalist who was critical of my swim in the 100m Backstroke earlier in the programme. An event that was never a focus for me and difficult to swim fast in when I was targeting a longer event four days later.
Nobody was more disappointed at my performance than me. But I decided that I had to let it go and enjoy the rest of my Olympic Games experience. Not many people are lucky enough to experience it once, let alone twice, so I ran around until I dropped. I watched as many sports as I could; I tried to see as many sights of London as possible, and yes there were a few parties in there too. I was privileged to be a part of the most successful Olympic team ever. The Kiwi team is a unique and special team. I think it is largely due to the initiatives introduced by Dave
Currie over the years. It doesn’t matter what sport you are, what part of the country you are from, we all united under the same flag and did our best to support each other through the good and bad times. It is an amazing experience that I will cherish forever.