This might sound a touch bizarre but I don’t think I quite understood the emotions that millions went through on Super Saturday until I was poolside on Magic Monday. You know that feeling when there is alchemy in the air, and in a blink of an eye one British gold suddenly turns into three. It was a bit like London 2012 when people thought Jessica Ennis-Hill would win, hoped that Mo Farah would join her, and then my long jump victory became the icing on top of a very large cake.
If I am being absolutely honest, I felt so much pressure after London 2012 because of some of the things that were said about me. I had a slight bit of imposter syndrome, possibly because I was made to feel that I didn’t belong as much as others. But as I get older, I start to appreciate things more and to see the broader picture. Super Saturday wouldn’t be the same without all three of us, or the other golds in the cycling and rowing earlier in the day. And as much as other names are often thrown around before mine, their names wouldn’t be thrown around as much without mine either. So there is a synergy there.
But looking back I wish someone had said to me: you’re now an Olympic champion, nobody can take your medal away from you, so enjoy every moment of it. That is my advice to Adam Peaty, Tom Daley and Matty Lee, y Tom Pidcock. You have had a huge impact on so many people. So embrace it. And don’t fear what’s to come. The same applies to silver medallists, Alex Yee in the triathlon y Lauren Williams in the taekwondo, también.
Of course Adam doesn’t need any advice from me. He has seen it, done it, and then repeated the trick. Speaking to him while out in Tokyo for Eurosport, the thing that really came across was his aura you see only in those athletes who are the best in the world – and know it. It was a bit like how I felt in 2015, when I won everything, including the world title. I would just turn up thinking: ‘Yeah, I’m just here to win.’
But hearing Adam explaining that his overriding emotion was relief, and his family, brought back such strong memories. Entonces, también, did seeing Tom Daley finally win gold at his fourth attempt. Having watched a recent documentary when he talked about his anxiety and eating disorder around London 2012 also reinforced that, as a sporting nation, we haven’t always got the balance right between medals and an athlete’s wellbeing.
So when UK Sport talks about how medals aren’t everything, and how every athlete has a story that can inspire the nation, I am encouraged. It certainly wasn’t always the case. I think we have to acknowledge that the win-at-all-cost mentality has had a massively detrimental effect. sí, things are much better in 2021 than in 2012. But even now we have a situation in certain sports – and gymnastics is a prime example – where a major independent inquiry into numerous allegations of abuse is under way.
For me it was always about winning. If I didn’t win, I wouldn’t be happy. But we have to accept and understand that an Olympic journey is very individual. If somebody comes away with a sixth-placed finish and a British record we should champion that. Si, just by getting to Tokyo, a female weightlifter inspires hundreds of other women to get strong, that should be shouted about and celebrated. Not everyone can win a medal. And hopefully these remarkable past 18 months where life has changed dramatically for everyone has put things into context. Yes sport is important, but there are far more important things.
That is why I have been reaching out to some of the GB swimmers who didn’t quite do what they wanted in Tokyo. What I try to get across to them is that a loss, or not achieving what you hoped for, does not define you as an athlete. The important thing is to learn – by really breaking down what went right and wrong and then being brave enough to make change. People claimed I was an overnight sensation when I won Olympic gold as a 25-year-old. En realidad, I’d come ninth in Beijing 2008, suffered injuries and all sorts of setbacks before, thanks to my coach Dan Pfaff, turning it all around.
Incidentally, I am sometimes asked whether I have ever sat down with Jess and Mo to properly dissect Super Saturday. Pobre de mí, the way sport works, and the fact that we live in different places, means we’ve never discussed how each of us viewed that night. But I still love the fact that I can look back in my mind’s eye, and I see Jess’s arms aloft having become Olympic champion as I am by the long jump pit. And then I am stood underneath the Olympic flame as Mo takes 10,000m gold as well. Essentially I had two completely unique views compared to everyone else in the world.
Hopefully we’ll meet at some dinner in the future and get the chance to sit, talk, and reminisce. But one thing I know from experience is that the Magic Monday medal winners are now part of a very special club. Y, even though they don’t know it yet, they are joined together from now to eternity.