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Olympic Outlook: ‘We were all equals, but when I saw Serena Williams, I had to ask for a picture’

Peter Bakare
bakare 300x225 Olympic Outlook: We were all equals, but when I saw Serena Williams, I had to ask for a picture

Peter in action during London 2012

My first Olympic Games experience, what can I say? I’ll start at the beginning, with the athlete’s village – it was a different world.  You’re surrounded by athletes who are the best in the world at what they do; who you’ve spent the last four years admiring and taking inspiration from.  But as soon as you’re in the village it’s like you’re all equals and there is a totally level playing field.  You all know you’re there to get the job done, and whether you’re a world champion, record holder or a newbie like me, you are all experiencing exactly the same – a mixture of nerves, anticipation and sheer adrenaline.  You are so in the zone, you don’t even realise the company you are keeping…

One night at dinner, being the messy eater that I am I spilt some food down my shirt and turned to the guy opposite me.

“Yo yo, excuse me , can you hand me a napkin please” I kindly ask.

“Do you know who you’re talking to?” my star-shocked team mate heckles.

“Yes! Of course I do – he’s the guy who is going to hand me a tissue,” I respond with haste, as gravy slowly makes itself comfortable in my Team GB cotton shirt.

I soon realise he is a three-time World Champion, although in my book he’s now a four-time champion after saving my previously all-red stainless shirt… That’s the thing with the village – legends are walking all around and you’re none the wiser.

I promised myself I wouldn’t be in awe, everyone is there in their own right, but when I saw Serena Williams walking around the village I had to ask for a picture.  I remember approaching her with such innocence and politeness.  After all, that’s not a backhand you want to be on the receiving end of.

After settling into village life, we quickly got down to business and focussed on the task at hand.  Team sports have a pretty full on competition schedule, and we were playing every other day during the preliminaries so it was an emotional rollercoaster coming down after a game and then getting hyped up again for the next.  We didn’t win a game at the London 2012 Olympics; we didn’t win a set at the London 2012 Olympics but don’t feel sorry for us! We made history as the first Volleyball team to represent Team GB and showed many times all the hard work that we had put in over the last six years since the team was first put together. Above all, we left that court with heads held high, crowds pleased and respect from the best teams in the world.

The home crowd made an incredible impact on me.  There’s a point in every athlete’s day when you hit a barrier and you feel like you can’t go on physically, like you’ve pushed yourself as far as you can. Then there’s a voice in your head that tells you ‘you can do it, you can push through it’.  It’s the difference between Gold and Silver, first place or a world record, asking for a napkin or letting the gravy settle.  When you’re in front of a thunderous 15,000-strong home crowd you can’t hear yourself think, you can’t hear that voice in your head but you don’t need to – you now have 15,000 people screaming those thoughts at you instead.

With all that said and done, we were lucky enough to attend the Closing Ceremony. We stood there in the middle of the Stadium for four glorious hours, watching this amazing spectacle.  With the flame extinguished and the phoenix in the ashes, there was only one thing left to do – party! After all, are we not human beings too?

Team GB set up a little area for us to relax and enjoy ourselves after the hard work.  They left the music system open with a cable to hook up your mp3 connected to two huge speakers.  Music is a powerful thing, it sets a person’s mood, it’s highly linked in with your emotions and lets you Get Jiggy with it. I have to say that the music was pretty poor until I decided to take action and plug in my iPod. The crowd loved me behind the decks and I had a medallist thanking me for my song choice – no, thank you I thought! You’re the ones who got us where we are in the medal table. I went from that Volleyball player who jumps really high to DJ Pete in the space of a chorus.

The next day, we left the village and I went home to rest and spend time with the family. The focus for me quickly turned to the future and what was next.  I’ve decided to go back to university and continue my degree in motion graphics and animation, but I’ve transferred from Sheffield to Northumbria which is a high performing university for volleyball.  I definitely want to carry on playing volleyball and at the moment, I’m still playing with the national team and focusing on the European Championship in 2013.  With uncertainty over funding, we don’t know if the team will carry on to Rio 2016 but I know I want to be there if it does.  We’ve gained respect on the international circuit now and it would be a huge shame to throw that away.  I’m 23 now and still in my prime, and by the time Rio rolls around I’ll be 26 – I might be a bit less explosive by then but I’ll have a whole lot more experience under my belt, so here’s to hoping for another four years on the Olympic merry-go-round.

Peter Bakare is a Lloyds TSB Local Hero.  In partnership with SportsAid, the programme provides support and funding to 346 of Britain’s most talented developing athletes on their journey to London 2012 and beyond. Follow future stars at facebook.com/lloydstsblocalheroes.  Find out more about Peter at PeterBakare.com.

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