It’s a strange consequence of an event which is only held every four years (ordinarily) that an athlete can embark on one Games as an Olympic and Paralympic novice – a debutant relying on the benefit of others’ experience; and be considered a senior member of the team at just their second Games.
The BAC’s Athlete Engagement Manager, Kristian Thomas, made his Olympic debut as a 23-year-old in London, and was Britain’s men’s gymnastics team captain four years later in Rio.
Here, he shares his insight into how vital it is that experience and knowledge is shared among athletes.
“Gymnastics is a sport with a fairly young average age at elite level, so I was relatively experienced in international competition when selected for London 2012, even though it was my first Games.
“Among the squad selected for that Games were Louis Smith, who was an Olympic medallist in Beijing, and Beth Tweddle, who was about to compete at her third Games. Utilising their first-hand experience and, more importantly, their composure and ‘business as usual’ approach in the build up to a Games was hugely beneficial.
“Fast forward four years to Rio, and after being chosen as captain by my team-mates, I was one of the gymnasts who needed to provide that advice and guidance to the younger members of the squad.
“It was a role I thoroughly enjoyed, but for the most part, was kept casual and relaxed. The team was already full of World and European medallists, so my job was predominantly making sure they went about their usual preparation, just as they would for any other event.
“The Olympics and Paralympics can create a heightened sense of excitement and alertness, and when channelled in the correct way, this can be a powerful tool for your performance – so having experience on how to do that in the village, training gyms and competition arenas are all important bits of knowledge and advice to share.
“As we all know, Olympic and Paralympic Games only – normally – come around once every four years, and getting the preparation right is key – nobody wants to feel as though they haven’t done themselves justice on the biggest stage, and then have to wait four years to put it right.
“For this reason, sharing knowledge and experience among athletes is crucial. It’s something that we try hard to facilitate here at the BAC, and it’s absolutely something that I would advise athletes to do within their own sports, social circles and training groups as well.
“For young athletes, ask as many questions as you can. For older, more experienced athletes, consider your status as an Olympic or Paralympic ‘veteran’ as a huge privilege, and make yourself available and approachable to your younger team-mates. This is one of the ways we’re able to create or contribute to a legacy as athletes, as it’s an element of my own career that I look back on with real pride.”