Andy Murray, London Olympics

From Andy Murray’s autobiography, Seventy-Seven

Beijing was one of the best experiences I’d ever had as an athlete. To be involved and part of the team, to go to the opening ceremony, and to speak to many gifted, wonderful sports people – I absolutely loved it. But then I lost in the first round to Lu Yen-hsun of Taiwan.

When I weighed myself the night after my loss, I discovered I’d lost five kilos since leaving Cincinnati a week before. I was completely dehydrated. I had not been a professional in my approach because I was so excited at being part of the Olympics. I knew that when London came around my attitude had to be different. I was never going to make the Beijing mistake again. I had forgotten I was there to win matches for the country, because I was enjoying the experience so much.

I didn’t think that going to the opening ceremony in Beijing would affect me. It was only in hindsight that I realised I had used tremendous amounts of energy, speaking to loads of people and enjoying the whole occasion. For some participants that is what the Olympics should be about, but I know how disappointed I was to lose so early because I had a chance to do well for the country and I blew it.

I would have loved to have gone to the London 2012 opening ceremony – it turned out to be the most spectacular event – but it was the wrong thing to do from a professional perspective. I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.
However, I was among the fortunate people nominated to carry the flame on its journey across the nation. That was a tremendous privilege. OK, I was only able to carry it inside the confines of the All England Club, but there were memebers and players in attendance – I remember Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych cutting short their practice sessions to come and watch me receive the flame.

My first match against Stanislas Wawrinka was a really tough one. I had been practicing with him so often beforehand .. and killing him actually! In those ten days, I think I had won every practice set and I had just felt great generally.[…]

I watched as many of the other sports as I could when I wasn’t playing, and I wanted to try to be a part of that success. When I lose at the Wimbledon Championships, there isn’t usually anyone else left for British fans to support; if I’d have lost at the Olympics, there was still Bradley Wiggins, Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis and Chris Hoy. If I had lost, I doubt whether people would have spent much time talking about it, because there were so many other exciting things going on elsewhere to concentrate on.

The night before playing in the final, I watched Ennis, Farah and Greg Rutherford all win gold in Olympic Stadium. The atmosphere was outrageous, it was crackling. The country was alive with optimism, there was momentum and everyone was so positive, from the spectators to the media.
In advance of the Games, the stories had all been about the prospect of terrible traffic problems, potential security problems and ticketing issues. People thought the opening ceremony would not be as good as in Beijing, but it proved to be an incredible spectacle.
Then a few days, it was all: ‘We haven’t won a gold yet’. Everything was negative again. But once the first gold arrived, then another, then a couple more, it all changed. There was nothing to complain about anymore and the whole nation was carried along on a wave of excitement. The athletes performed better than anyone was expecting – career-best performances, golds, silvers, glorious achievements – and I put a lot of that down to the positive momentum all around. As an individual sportsman, I’d certainly never experienced anything like it.

I managed to make good progress through my first four rounds, only losing one set to Marcos Baghdatis, who challenged me really hard again. Then, after I defeated Nicolas Almagro on No.1 Court, with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge amongst the spectators, I was into the semi-finals to play Novak again. I spoke to Ivan the evening before and his lessage was the same as usual: to impose my game on the match, play the game on my terms and not to lose running around with my arse against the back fence.
I managed to execute the game plan, turning in one of my most complete performances of the year. In windy conditions I thought I struck the ball really well. In the first set there were some tremendous rallies, but the second set, by comparison, wasn’t quite as good. Novak had a lot of break points, but I served really well and hung tough in those moments and just managed to get the break myself in the end.
The atmosphere was unbelievable, different to anything I’d experienced before. I’d always said that the mnight matches at the US Open had the best atmosphere, but they weren’t even close to what it was like against Novak.
I celebrated victory in the normal way until I sat down in the chair. Suddenly, I leapt up again, as if electricity was surging through my body. I’d realised I had guaranteed myself an Olympic medal.

The final would be a rematch against Roger for Olympic gold.

Rafael Nadal, 2008 Olympic Games

I felt very big emotions. It is one of the most important victories in my career, without a doubt, so I was just happy about that and I really enjoyed the whole experience in Beijing. To finish the two weeks there with a victory was something so, so special for me.

It’s different than any other event but at the same time it is the most difficult event to win, because you’re only going to have maybe one or two, or if you’re lucky, three chances in your career. So you appreciate the thing that you made it, and those were my thoughts at that moment. (I had) very high emotions when listening to the national anthem, and at the same time knowing it’s something special.

Winning the Olympic gold medal is one of the most important things in my career, for sure. At the end of the day the most important thing is your personal feeling. And, for me, that I won the Olympics is at the higher level.

I keep all my trophies and my medal in the museum of the Rafa Nadal Sports Centre which includes the Rafa Nadal Academy in Manacor, Mallorca.

Every event is important to us on the tour. On the tour we have amazing events. (But) the Olympics is more than just sport. It is the world of sport in general, so it’s the most important event in the world of sport. The experience of enjoying it with the rest of my (Spanish) colleagues in the Village for two weeks, and knowing a little bit more about different sports, is something that has been very interesting and I really enjoyed it a lot.

All the moments in the Olympic Village – that was unbelievable for me. To enjoy those two weeks with the rest of the Spanish athletes but at the same time with the biggest stars of different sports of the world is something unforgettable.

I watched other sports. I watch other sports all the time. I am a big fan of sports in general. I only had the chance to go to the basketball.

I enjoy knowing that I’m an Olympic champion. Some experiences since 2008 have been tough for me. I didn’t have the chance to compete at London 2012. I hope this time I’m going to have the chance to enjoy the experience again and I’m really excited about it.

I don’t think very often about the things that I won. That’s the real thing. I go day by day and I’m happy with all the things that have happened in my career and my life. In the world of sport there isn’t a lot of time to think about what happened. There’s only time to think about what’s coming.

Rafa Nadal, Beijing Olympics

Excerpt from Rafael Nadal‘s autobiography Rafa:

I stayed in the Olympic village with all the other athletes, and once again, as in the Davis Cup, I had a taste of that team spirit that I loved so much when I played football as a kid. Living with my Spanish teammates, in the same residential compound, meeting and making friends with the Spanish basketball team and track athletes (some of whom, a little embarrassingly, would stop me in the corridors, or in the communal laundry room where we all washed our clothes, to ask me for my autograph) and stepping out in uniform alongside them all for the opening ceremony – these were unforgettable experiences. But my sense of good fortune came accompanied by a strong dose of indignation.

I understood better than ever just how privileged we professional tennis players are, and how unjust is the predicament of so many Olympic athletes. They train incredibly hard, at least as hard as we do, yet the rewards tend to be far smaller. A tennis player ranked number eighty in the world has economic benefits, social privileges, and a degree of recognition beyond the dreams of someone who is number one in track and field, swimming, or gymnastics. On the tennis circuit everything is laid on for us all year round, and the money we receive allows us the chance to save for our futures. These people train with the discipline of monks over a period of four years in preparation for the one competition that stands out above all others, the Olympics, yet the vast majority of them receive very little support relative to the effort they invest. It’s admirable that they should prepare so rigorously, at so much personal sacrifice, for the mere satisfaction of competing and because of the passion they feel for their sports. That has a value beyond price. But that shouldn’t have to be enough. With all the income the International Olympic Committee generates from the Games – an event that depends for its success on the commitment of the athletes – you’d think they might be able to share the cash a little more fairly. In my case, I have no need to be paid, luckily, but an athlete who runs in the 400 meters or the marathon needs a lot of financial backing just to be able to train at the level required to make it to the Olympics and then compete for the top prizes. I understand that tennis has broader public appeal, at least over the course of a calendar year, but I think it’s unjust that more of an effort is not made to allow these incredibly dedicated people to live more decently and train in better conditions.

But these were my reflections after it was all over. Moaning and griping was not what defined my time in Beijing. What stays with me, above all, was the camaraderie between the athletes and the chance I had to learn about so many different new sports and discover how much we all had in common. Just to be able to participate, and to have access to a world I never thought I’d get to know, was uplifing enough.

Then to win gold in the men’s singles, after beating Djokovic in the semis and Fernando Gonzalez of Chile in the final, and to see the Spanish flag being raised to the accompaniment of the national anthem as I stood on the winner’s podium: well, it was one of my life’s proudest moments. People don’t usually associate the Olympic Games with tennis. I certainly didn’t when I was growing up. The game only reappeared as an Olympic sport in 1988, after a 64 years absence. But in tennis players’ minds Olympic gold has become something to covet. After a Grand Slam, it’s now the prize we most cherish.

Justine Henin, Athens 2004

I had a bad virus – I had CMV, cytomegalovirus – for a few months, and at a certain time I thought the Olympic Games are not going to be for me this time. But then I decided to go because it was an experience you maybe live once, twice, in your career. I said I’m going to go and in Athens, it’s going to be so special to be back where the history of the Olympic Games is.

Match after match I was winning and I couldn’t believe what was happening. In the semifinals I came back from nowhere, losing 5-1 in the third and I won the match. And then I played the final and I won and it was just, phew, when they played the national anthem I was so proud. Yeah, I was so proud to feel the whole country behind me. We have the Grand Slams and, of course, with tennis the Grand Slams are very important. But the Olympic Games, I never thought it would be so emotional for me and it was so different from what I lived all the time on the tour.

Usually I keep my emotions for me, but there was a lot of joy. There was a lot of surprise, of sharing with the Belgian delegation. All the athletes were there. I didn’t cry, but I did sing. And I was so very, very proud. After the match and the ceremony I came back to the Village and all the athletes were waiting for me in the Belgian house and we celebrated together for an hour. Everyone was so happy and it’s just a great memory.

I stayed in the Village. I wanted to be in the Village. Some players stay in hotels to be away from all the atmosphere because it takes up a lot of your energy. I’ve been very impressed with the Olympic Village, all these athletes from different sports, the restaurant where you have 10,000 athletes from different countries. Also, especially, individual sports are very difficult if you are alone. Of course, you have your team around you, but it’s only you, and in the Village you feel the energy from all the other athletes, and the tension and that they were anxious also when they started their competition. And we could also talk about that.

When I went to the Olympic Games I never thought I would be so proud of the medal and I think today there is my first French Open and right behind it is the Olympic gold medal in my memories. Just the experience was so fun and the fact that for me, I was coming from nowhere. Two or three months before the Olympic Games I couldn’t practise for an hour and a half, and there, it was just like magical, something happened that is very hard to describe.

I think I won the gold medal at 10 in the evening and the day after we were flying at 7:30 in the morning. But at the airport there were a lot of people waiting for me. The whole country was behind me. It’s not in Belgium that we win a gold medal every day – it’s a small country – so there was a big celebration there at the airport.

It’s the experience you have to live once in your career. And, of course, you want to win and to have a medal, but just the humanexperience is unbelievable, and you see all the athletes and you feel a little bit more normal because you are in the middle of so many thousands of athletes. You open your mind to so many different things, and I remember from my experience my eyes were open like this (opens them really wide) all the time, looking at everything.

Source: ITF Olympic book

Andre Agassi, gold medallist, Atlanta 1996

From Agassi‘s autobiography Open:

As the Games begin, sportswriters kill me for skipping the opening ceremonies. But I’m not in Atlanta for opening ceremonies, I’m here for gold, and I need to hoard what little concentation and energy I can muster these days. The tennis is being played in Stone Mountain, an hour’s drive from the opening ceremonies downtown. Stand around in Georgia heat and humidity, wearing a coat and tie, waiting for hours to walk around the tack, then drive to Stone Mountain and give my best? No. I can’t. I’d love to experience the pageantry, to savor the spectacle of Olympics, but not before my first match. This, I tell myself is focus. This is what it means to put substance above image.

With a good night’s sleep under my belt I win my first-rounder against Jonas Bjorkman, from Sweden. In the second round I cruise past Karol Kucera, from Slovakia. In the thris ound I face a stiffer test from Andrea Gaudenzi, from Italy. He has a muscle-bound game. He likes to trade body blows, and if you respect him too much he gets more macho.
I don’t show him any respect. But the ball doesn’t respect me. I’m making all sorts of unforced errors. Before I know what’s happening, I’m down a set and a break? I look to Brad. What should I do? He yells: Stop missing!
Oh. Right. Sage advice. I stop missing, stop trying to hit winners, put the pressue back on Gaudenzi. It’s really that simple, and I scrape out an ugly, satisfying win.

In the quarters I’m on the verge on the elimination against Ferreira. He’s up 5-4 in the third, serving for the match. But he’s never beaten me before, and I know exactly what’s going on inside his body. Something my father used to say comes back to me: If you stick a piece of charcoal up his ass, you’ll pull out a diamond? (Round, Tiffany cut). I know Ferreira’s sphincter is squeezing shut, and this makes me confident. I rally, break him, win the match.

In the semis I meet Leander Paes, from India. He’s a flying jumping bean, a bundle of hyperkinetic energy, with the tour’s quickest hands. Still, he’s never learned to hit a ball. He hits off-speed, hacks, chips, lobs – he’s the Brad of Bombay. Then, behind all his junk, he flies to the net and covers so well that it all seems to work. After an hour you feel as if he hasn’t hit one ball cleanly – and yet he’s beating you soundly. Because I’m prepared, I stay patient, stay calm, and beat Paes 7-6 6-3.

In the final I play Sergi Bruguera, from Spain. […]
From the opening serve, I’m pounding Bruguera, moving him from corner to corner, making him cover a parcel of real estate the size of Barcelona. Every point is a blow to his midsection. In the middle of the second set set we have a titanic rally. He wins the point to get back to deuce. […]
Even though Bruguera has won the point, Gil sees, and I see, that winning the point cost him the next six games.

As I mount the review stand, I think: What will this feel like? I’ve watched this on TV so many times, can it possibly live up to my expectations? Or, like so many things, will it fall short?
I look left and right. Paes, the bronze winner, is on one side. Bruguera, the silver winner, is on the other. My platform is a foot higher – one of the few times I’m taller than my opponents. But I’d feel ten feet tall on any surface. A man drapes the gold medal around my neck. The national anthem starts. I feel my heart swell, and it has nothing to do with tennis, or me, and thus it exceeds all my expectations.

It does feel good to be an Olympic medallist. At the time, I was quite disappointed in 1988 with the bronze medals. I was really looking for the gold medal. I gave it a shot in 1992, clay court wasn’t my best surface at the time and I got knocked out there. It wasn’t the end ofthe world.

Looking back, it was very nice. I remember five or ten years ago, my kids were in school and they could bring some medals to the school because it was an Olympic year. I took the medals to the school to show them and they could have a look at them and see what the real thing is. I told them about when I was playing in the Olympics.

You could come out and show the young people some real Olympic medals which probably a lot of school kids hadn’t seen. It was a nice thing to tell a story about being part of the Olympics. You are part of history in the Olympics. It was the local school where I live now in Vaxjo.

I started in Los Angeles at the tennis demonstration event. Great experience in Los Angeles winning the gold medal but it was not official at the time. In Seoul, I won singles and doubles bronze medals.
Obviously, at the time, great to get a medal but I felt I wanted to go for the gold. I felt that I had a good chance to win either singles or doubles but it didn’t quite turn out that way. Overall, I still got a medal there which is nice to have.

The opening ceremony in Barcelona was pretty special – I carried the flag for the nation, which is a big honour. What I remember from that one, you have to put your suit on, your tie on and you have got this special belt. You have to wait quite a long time before you get into the stadium and we ended up waiting somewhere in the tunnel and it was extremely hot. You can just imagine when it is 35 degrees, a lot of people and you have to stand there with the flag, suit and tie… I was sweating floods. We were probably there for an hour or something.

It was a relief getting out, carrying the flag and getting some air. I remember the other athletes thought I was going a little bit too quick with the flag because they wanted to stay as long as possible on the track. My pace was probably a little bit too quick for their liking, for the people coming behind that wanted to wave and be on there as long as possible. It was incredibly hot. There was no sweat left when I walked out.

The big difference was being part of the Olympic movement, the Village, being able to see athletes from other sports and other countries. That was a neat experience to be part of the nation in the Olympics. Playing on the court, there was not that much difference. You are still two people out there, doing the job you are supposed to do to win.