Saturday, 5 May 2012

Kazakhstan – The first meeting with Olympic athletes

April 18-22

2012 is a year that promises much. From the European Championships in the summer to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, it is a year whose calendar is already packed close to capacity. There is one event that has captured the imagination of (most) British people, however. 2012 is an Olympic year, and this 29th Olympiad will be hosted by London.

One of the downsides of living so far away from home is that the hype and anticipation isn’t quite the same in a country that isn’t inviting the world into its house for a few weeks to play sport. It is strangely difficult to get too excited about events that take place on man-made beaches in Hampton Court when my ‘local’ man-made beach is in the Khan Shatyr complex in Astana. Whereas the London Evening Standard may have at least one article a day talking about the summer’s shenanigans, media here are not yet ready to devote their time to an event that, for them, is distant both geographically and chronologically.

Luckily for us, our school has strong links with many Embassies here in Astana, including the British Embassy. On April 18th, we joined forces with them to host an event celebrating a poignant moment in the build-up to London 2012. That date, if you are unaware, marked one hundred days until the start of the Olympic Games.

The British Ambassador, a few more dignitaries and some Kazakh Olympic officials came to the school on a bright, warm Wednesday afternoon to share this moment with us and the children. We watched a video which informed all about the importance of the whole country to the London Olympics – including places as different as the Royal Mint in Wales and an airbase in northwest England.

After this and a few speeches in various languages, we convened outside to hold two relay races. One involved the children, and the other involved the adults. For the latter, each team consisted of one male teacher, one female teacher, one member of the Embassy and one Kazakh Olympic athlete.

Did I forget to mention that Kazakh Olympic athletes were at the school? How silly of me. Admittedly there were only three of them, and they were all swimmers as opposed to the runners we had believed would represent the team. However, they proved enormously popular within the school, with children asking for autographs and hugging them. Through two girls in my class I discovered that the two female swimmers were swimming butterfly and breaststroke respectively. As you would expect, they looked very athletic and ready to accomplish their dreams this summer. Even if one of the girls laughed when I suggested to her that she would win gold.

I didn’t run in this race – partly because other people deserved a chance to run, but also because I had my own Olympic-sized mountain to climb merely a few days later. On the following Sunday I competed in my first ever triathlon. Those of you who know me and, until recently, my inability to ride a bike will realise that it is a big achievement for me. I learnt to ride less than two years ago, have hardly ridden since, and I still hate bikes.

A triathlon is three events: swimming, cycling and running, completed in that order. There were 36 people suckered into competing. The joy – or the antonym of that feeling – of a triathlon is that different people have different strengths and weaknesses, so completing three diverse events allow the playing field to be levelled.

To say the swim was chaotic would be a major understatement. Everybody swum in the school’s small swimming pool simultaneously, with six people in each lane. This meant that people regularly crashed into one another, and swimming at a reasonable speed was rendered impossible.

As mentioned before, I’m not best friends with bicycles. I borrowed one from a parent in order to compete, and had completed two practice runs of the circuit which ran through the pyramid park and under some bridges. It also went into a construction site. Until the Olympic Wednesday I had never cycled off-road before, and didn’t enjoy it.

After surviving 20km on two wheels, it was time to use my strength, my two feet, to run the final 6km. Possibly owing to my lack of speed on the bike, I had a little bit of energy for the run, and completed it quickly. I finished the whole triathlon in 1 hour 41 minutes, which I was happy with. The winner, a fitness instructor, had finished over twenty minutes before. He was in my swimming lane, and you could tell that he was going to be good from his distinct lack of body fat. A worthy winner.

It’s been a sporty week that has encouraged our children to strive for athletic perfection whilst showing them that the adults they respect – be they parents, teachers or others – that they too are capable of completing challenges that make us feel like Olympians.

Love you all


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