Last month`s British Universities was held in the London Olympic Stadium. There were three Clonliffe athletes in action Sarah McCormack, Louise Hill Sterling and Leah Moore. Leah, the Brunel Captain gives an inside view of this amazing experience to clonliffeharriersac.com :
As I sat in the first of two call rooms in the Olympic stadium for the heats of the 4 x 100 relay the tension in the room was palpable. The reputation of Brunel University was on our shoulders. The spectators in the stadium amassed to 45,000. Eight-hundred meters away in a cold tent on the warm up track overlooking Canary Warf in London’s East-End we sat trying to keep our bodies warm wondering if our shaking bodies were due to the almost zero temperatures or the surging adrenaline taking over us with each roar from the crowd in the stadium. As cans of caffeine stimulants were gingerly passed between team members the Brunel team sat in a huddle chanting our team motto, Believe Achieve, however with a lapse in concentration our first leg runner cracked under the pressure of baton changes and mind games from coaches of other universities on the warm up track. Our centre of focus was broken, with the leg two and leg three runners loosing confidence with each breath. As captain of Brunel Athletics, my mind jumped from trying to focus on my own performance to resurfacing the team, particularly so with all our competitors looking on with glee. Sitting the first leg runner down and implementing a meditation technique I needed to show strength where my friend needed it, I was terrified inside.
“First leg runners this way please, second leg runners this way please, third leg runners this way please, fourth leg runners this way please”. As each team broke, the long 800m walk from the warm up track to the indoor track underneath the stadium began. As we walked many chatted about how this was the path Usain Bolt would take. I kept thinking to myself, “Pretend you are warm Leah, your cramping hamstring is not a problem”. My three layers of clothing were failing in their attempt to stop my legs from cramping in the cold. I had not run in 30 minutes and I was really starting to feel it. Once in the second call room and in the heated indoor track we had 5 minutes to gather ourselves. Smiles crossed each athlete’s face as we realised that the dull hum in the background was 45,000 people screaming.
As we were paraded out onto the track to motivational music I tried my upmost to focus on the task at hand by going straight to my teams allotted lane and to the end of the acceleration zone to count my twenty-five steps back and put my mark down. “One, two, three, five, what? Whoops, no four comes before five, start again, focus.” As the announcer called the name of each university team in the race Loughborough jumped around and gestured like professional athletes however I remember thinking at the time that they were more reminiscent of pink butterflies (their strip is purple and pink) jumping about in obnoxious hilarity enjoying their moment of life before the task of watching the Brunel team stride on ahead of them. When Brunel was called there was a deafening roar, larger than any other from the crowd due to a high jumper clearing a height, we inadvertently had the upper hand. With the gun going beginning the race I listened to the crowd roar, it felt almost like a buzzing radio, our second leg runner brought us into lead, with the third leg my heart was doing the a jig on fast forward in my chest. I got down to the crouch position looking at for my team member from upside down. Birmingham were coming back at us, my rear end with the letters BRUNEL plastered across my racing briefs did not feel the cold any more. Bang! My athlete hit my 25 steps mark and I went off through the acceleration zone, I heard her call one stride into the change-over zone, our practice had paid off, my hand went back and in a split second I had the baton in my sweaty palm. All I could hear was my third leg runner roar with all her might “GO LEAH GO!”. About 10 metres in I found myself in the lead. I roared at myself to go, go, go, go, a little trick John Shields taught me when I started training with him in Santry at age 13. With my little mantra all I could hear was my own heartbeat. Suddenly with a roar from the announcer I heard “And its Brunel in the lead!” and I was brought back to reality, the roar of the crowd was unreal, so loud. Then all of a sudden at around 50 metres it dawned on the me that they were screaming at me, so I kept those legs of mine moving, hopefully gracefully, but the excitement was taking over me. The south-side head on me was repeating ‘OH MY GAWWWD’, and the adopted north-side head on me was going mad like damo from the music duo Damo & Ivor, threatening to go ‘shmad’ if I did not maintain the lead and bring Brunel to a cheeky victory. As I came close to the line I contemplated a victory gesture, although only the heats it was the toughest pool and the only time we would be in front of 45,000 spectators. However my shyness won out as I opted for a wiry smile and a slight dip to ensure a fast time, caught by photographers and now framed in my parents living room. Those few minutes were enough to fuel any adrenaline junky for a lifetime of enjoyment, fourty-five thousand faces shouting and watching eight teams battle it out and we won. I am so privileged to have anchored the team, a true a pleasure.
As our team gathered in the media area and hugged, again encapsulated by photographers, I contemplated how the stress of being captain had caused me to underperform massively in the cold conditions in the individual 100m devastating me, and I realised that I could use this to do better in the 200m. The following day the weather conditions did not improve, with more stress piling on from the team with injuries and people looking for support, so my 200m improved from the 100m slightly with reaching the final, but nowhere near my potential. I therefore focused again on the relay. The team spirit in an otherwise lonely sport was incredibly uplifting and as Loughborough and Bath brought in their top guns and our team faced a massive blow with an injury to our critical second leg runner, we went into the final gunning for it and brought home bronze. An incredible feat in the circumstances. I was delighted and so proud of my team, we had won in the heats on the only day where the crowd was 45, 000. The most amazing experience I will ever have.
Personally I could not have been happier as captain as we came second in the medal tally, with our team being completely organised and held together by the student committee compared to a paid professional team behind the likes of Loughborough, Bath, Birmingham etc. Racing in the stadium, gaining invaluable experience in all aspects of professional running, albeit on an armature basis, has been an invaluable experience showing that you fight against all the odds, no matter how difficult the situation may seem you will always find the strength to keep going. Most importantly always smile and enjoy yourself because every experience is precious, particularly ours in East London. Nil Desperandum.