Sportyhannah74's Blog

The Thomas Green Blog – Competing against the Best

Posted on: February 9, 2011

Welcome to the fourth instalment of my blog! I’ve just returned from New Zealand and thought that I’d put fingers to keyboard to give you my own, slightly jet lagged version of my experiences of competing at the IPC World Athletics Championships in Auckland…..

You might not expect an account of the World Athletics Championships to contain discussions on international relations, medium-sized earthquakes and the possible drawbacks of a welfare state, but this is the IPC, and they like to provide a wide range of topics to debate. Disabled athletics is a minefield of controversy at the best of times, and a major championships is always guaranteed to  bring each of the many contentious issues to a head.

Thomas Green

Out and about in Auckland

Somewhere in the midst of it, I came seventh in the club competition, with a respectable distance of 25.06 metres. Having previously gone on record as saying I would be happy with a result of 24 metres, I can hardly claim to be disappointed with this, but I know I could have thrown better. One of the things about being an international athlete is that you are never completely satisfied with your performance. I always come away from a competition thinking about what I could have done better, and I know I was missing a little bit of “snap” in my action that could have got me that bit extra. My throwing at the Auckland holding camp had been excellent, and is very encouraging for the summer, but I didn’t quite translate this into the competition. Still, I managed to perform well in by far the most intense atmosphere I have ever thrown in, and so that should will stand me in very good stead for future competitions.

The atmosphere changed as soon as we got to Christchurch. Instead of a sports institute, we were staying in a hotel, and so I spent nearly all of my time either training or sitting in my eighth floor hotel room. Gone were the communal areas and games rooms from the Auckland holding camp, and the atmosphere intensified proportionally. I talked previously about the importance of managing your time when on these trips, but this challenge was far greater in Christchurch. Stuck alone – or with one other person – in a room with not much to do apart from thinking about your competition is very draining, and you just have to try and get as much rest and relaxation as possible. If I was going to rate myself according to how well I did this, I think I’d probably give myself 2 out of 10. I’m pretty pleased with this, because I think it would have been very easy to score zero.

The luxury of rolling out of bed onto the training ground at Auckland was also gone. We had to travel to the venue on torturous half-hour bus journeys, which we shared with countries such as China, Russia and America (the route planner was obviously a political optimist). The training ground turned out to be a bit of a free-for-all, with 78 countries fighting for space to train, and the throwing field was more like a death trap. Having said which, I found it strangely motivating to know that, as I took each throw, I could very well be skewered through the back with a javelin before my next one. It was an innovative way of making me train as if each throw was my last!

Within days of arriving, we received news that Mourad Idoudi – the Paralympic champion and world record holder – had been reclassified from an F32 to an F33. In other words, he was deemed to have been competing in a classification for athletes with a disability more severe than his. This was a decision that I, and most of the rest of the world, agreed with, but it left a sour taste in the mouth, as errors in classification are one of the most glaring imperfections in Paralympic sport. I felt particularly for my teammate, Stephen Miller, as it was Idoudi who denied him his fourth consecutive gold medal in Beijing – a result that after this long is unlikely to be reversed. Still, it meant that the competition would be wide open.

Time passed in strange patterns leading up to the competition. The first few days dragged by, and then suddenly the events had begun, and every conversation seemed to bring news of another success in the team’s early endeavours. I tried to get down to watch as much of the event as I could in the first few days – partly to support my team mates and partly just to occupy my mind – and very soon it came round to the day before my competition, which passed about as slowly as a particularly painstaking episode of ‘Glee’. There are rumours that at some point I also slept through an earthquake that measured 5.1 on the Richter scale, which perhaps shows the extent to which I was distracted.

The competition itself was a bit of a blur. It started with a 5am get-up and breakfast, ready for the bus journey at 6.30. We had to get to the venue hours before the competition, mainly to give the officials time to round us up into a small pen and confiscate all our belongings. Spending what seemed like an age eyeballing my competitors prior to throwing hardly helped the nerves, but I tried to keep light-hearted. When an official inquired as to the purpose of the wooden stick in my bag (it is an aid I use for my warm-up), I informed her that it was a murder weapon. I’m not quite sure she got the joke.

Competing in the World Championship Arena

Once we were out in the competition area, things moved very quickly, and it almost felt like it was over before it began. The competition was very close until Lahouri Bahlaz of Algeria pulled out a huge throw of 36.73 metres to claim the gold medal and a new world record. It was a huge shock, as the 31-year-old is relatively new to the sport, and had only registered a throw of 28 metres the previous season. Having also won the discus competition, he looks set to be the man to beat going into London. I first met him in Tunisia last year, and was struck instantly by the size of him. He is built like a cross between a willow tree and a four-legged spider, and throws in a whippy, slingy style that is somewhere between a javelin throw and a baseball pitch. His classification was also protested after the event, but the protest was rejected. The objection was different to that against Idoudi, who had very good control of his upper body. Bahlaz, like many of his compatriots, does not own a wheelchair, and basically walks everywhere, and so there is naturally scepticism over his status as a “seated” thrower. However, the term “walk” is slightly misleading – he kind of staggers around like a drunk person running away from a particularly slow-moving crocodile – and the I.P.C. came to the decision that, whilst he could walk, he did not have the balance and coordination to throw from a standing position. I have sympathy for this argument, particularly as I don’t see why people should be penalised for bothering to learn to walk when their Western counterparts are swanning around in electric wheelchairs from the age of 18 months, but it is a very marginal decision.

What is for certain is that Bahlaz is now here to stay, and his performance has certainly sharpened my focus for the upcoming season and beyond. We always knew that someone would throw the club 40 metres at some point, but having him come so close (the wind probably took at least two metres off his throw) brings it into reality, particularly as he is likely to improve. My coach and I have already embarked on a programme to refine my action and get the whip I need to threaten such distances, but it is a long-term project and I know now more than ever that it will take a whole career to get up to the top of my discipline. I therefore plan to spend the next semester sitting quietly in lectures, plotting world domination and the eventual demise of troublesome Algerians.

There’s more to come from Thomas next month… this space!


1 Response to "The Thomas Green Blog – Competing against the Best"

What a fantastic piece of writing. Brilliant mathematician, international athlete and the boy can write as well………..

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