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I’m not a sporty person. In primary school, we used to play football every day at small and big break. I was always picked last. I scored a goal once. Another time I did a handball by accident and one of my teammates insisted it wasn’t a foul because “Alan doesn’t count”. It just occurred to me that this could have been the moment when I started hating Lads. Anyway, my only other school sporting achievement is that I came fourth in a wheelbarrow race once. I’m not a natural athlete is my point. The Olympics makes us all wonder how we’d do if we were there, how we’d compare to the modern gods that are Olympic athletes. I don’t need to wonder, I know exactly how I’d get on.
My teammates protest vociferously, surely there’s a more qualified person to be the third person on their team besides a podcast host who saw Brave once? No, there’s just me. I step up to the line, I annoy my teammates by calling it The Line even though it has an archery name. They’re also annoyed that I keep calling it the Bow and Arrow Event instead of Archery. I draw back the bowstring, my impostor syndrome screaming. The target is very far away. I’ve been meaning to get glasses for a while but it’s too late now. I line up the arrow as best I can, exhale, and let go. The arrow does what could best be described as a spasmflop and lands several feet away. It isn’t enough.
I annoy the other sprinters by insisting on doing a five minute warm-up walk around the track before I get to the starting line because that’s how it works on my Couch To 5K app.
Gymnastics Horizontal Bar
I hang there for a really long time, refusing all offers of help, wishing I hadn’t ignored my core muscles for 32 years.
I run as fast as I can towards the springboard, jump on it, and I’m away! I’m completely vertical and not doing any tricks. I’m a minimalist. My toes catch on the edge of the vaulting horse and I fold and collapse in a violent heap on top of the horse. I lay there for fifteen minutes, groaning softly and then loudly and then just being very silent and still, holding everybody up. Everybody hates me, especially the Russians, they seem to hate me on a very personal level which I never get to the bottom of.
The javelin is heavier than I think. I should have practiced first. I heft it up and start running, weaving slightly from side to side. I get to the line and throw it as far as I can, hurting my shoulder. It lands flat. The officials have to run back to find it. They were expecting it to land much further away from me. They don’t like me.
The sand burns my feet.
I’m last seen disappearing out to sea which confuses my would-be rescuers as the kayaking course ends in a lake. I’m remembered fondly as a table quiz question.
I look my opponent in the eye. Even though we’re the same weight, he seems to have distributed his weight into useful places like biceps and thigh muscles. My training focus was almost entirely on making sure my butt looked cute in my leotard. I am pinned almost immediately but my butt is voted “Best Butt of Rio 2016”
I get no points but have a good time. When I finish I can’t remember where I left my shoes. The gif of me looking around for them becomes the new John Travolta Looking Around In Pulp Fiction gif for about a week.
An inspirational Oscar-bait film is made about my journey to the Olympics. The kind of Oscar-bait film where the protagonist dies at the end.
A fellow competitor takes pity on me and explains what dressage is just before I climb onto my horse, HorseAl Around. I feel like the horse and I have a moment of pure animalistic connection just before he bolts and we’re last seen disappearing out to sea, still in perfect communion, two of God’s creatures, both completely terrified of each other.
My initial cockiness fades rapidly when I realise that this event involves more than just watching five episodes of Modern Family in a row. It also explains why my fellow pentathletes looked confused when I said I was “a total Mitchell” .
Diving 10m Platform
Day 6. Still on the platform. I live here now. The other divers bring me food and news from below.
“My name’s Wrestlin’ Alan and I’m here to say, I might Irish Whip you later, hope that that’s ok,” I rap confidently before I’m grabbed violently around the waist and thrown to the ground by my opponent whose flow is quite frankly wack. Somehow he still wins.
I get the ball and make everybody wait to continue the game until I’m sure my parents are watching but they’re talking to a couple from Wexford so I’m calling them for ages and then when they finally look I immediately lose possession.
“The pole vault is 99% confidence 1% running” I tell myself as I run as fast as I can. I see the slot that the pole needs to go into, impossibly small, like the exhaust port Luke Skywalker needed to fire a torpedo into at the end of Star Wars. I’m still thinking about Star Wars as I start to lift off the ground. “ohshitohshitohshit,” I think to myself, “this is like when Luke learned to control the force and made his ship rise up from the swamp in The Empire Strikes Back”. Unfortunately, my hands always get sweaty when I think about the Star Wars universe and I begin to slide down the pole while I’m in mid air. Most failed pole vaults end with the vaulter tapping the bar with their heels as they sail gracefully over, serene even in defeat. I careen into the bar face first, smashing my nose in, too terrified to let go of the pole. “This is a metaphor for something but I don’t know what,” I think to myself as I crash to the ground, “like the Ewoks in Return Of The Jedi.”