Thursday, November 30, 2023 | Jumada al-ula 15, 1445 H
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Afghanistan, New Zealand, and Japan hit the headlines this week

The Olympic Games of 2020, no that is not a typo, in Tokyo, were probably a success with notably few controversies
US Marines provide assistance during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, on Friday. -- AFP
US Marines provide assistance during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, on Friday. -- AFP

What a tumultuous week it has been with the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Olympic Games, New Zealand’s return to lockdown, and a rude awakening for sports men and women in a turbulent and tumultuous week.

Since its halcyon days at the centre of the Silk Road, Afghanistan has suffered. They don’t need anyone else clumping around in their size ten boots! Russia tried and failed, now America tried and failed, so Plan ‘C’ should be just to stay away. Let them determine what is right or wrong for them, themselves, because there is no subtlety in invasion, and nobody, but nobody, likes an uninvited guest!

The Olympic Games of 2020, no that is not a typo, in Tokyo, were probably a success with notably few controversies. Lauren Hubbard, the New Zealand weightlifter failed to register a legal lift, and that saved what could have been a distasteful situation. Speaking of which, another New Zealander, boxer David Nyika must have been a tasty morsel, as Moroccan Youness Balla tried to bite him. Nyika went on to take the Bronze Medal, Balla went to McDonalds and made do with a Big Mac!

For much of the Olympics the focus was on two superstars who had minimal participation. In practice for the event Simone Biles (USA) was achieving never-before gymnastic feats, but she got the ‘twisties,’ or lost spatial awareness. Now I know why I can’t do cartwheels! Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka (WTA ranking, 2) was a crowd favorite, but went out in the Third Round to the unheralded Marketa Vondrousova, ranked 41st. Not for the first time recently, the pressure affected Osaka who blames the media for her recent failings.

Well, for my money she doth protest too much. How can Osaka bellyache about media pressure, volatility, and intrusion, while she flaunts herself, swim-suited and glowing, on Vogue and Sports Illustrated? Sports is very much about handling pressure, and I am very much aware of the way ordinary people have always had to ‘walk on eggshells,’ around sporting icons, and how their ‘falls from grace’ are as much news as their achievements, but well, that’s why you get the big bucks! BTW... Osaka is worth $60 million and rising.

The psychological aspects related to sport are keenly felt currently, with Joe Root the England cricket captain admitting that his ‘confrontational’ persona, his ‘bad side,’ caused a lack of focus and awareness that led his team folding meekly on the last day of the Lords test against India, whose captain Virat Kohli exhorted his team to stern countenances and serious faces as India chased the win on the last afternoon. He wanted the England batsmen to feel like they were ‘in hell’ out in the middle, isolated and alone... and it worked a treat as England rolled over under pressure... hmmmm there’s that word again.

Not managing pressure and expectation however is not something that should be ignored, especially as social media allows access to sports stars virtually on a one-to-one basis. Going back to New Zealand again, All Blacks rugby halfback Aaron Smith offered some good advice to sports men and women on their way to the top. “Read all your press, or none of it,” he said, intimating that many get, or have got, inflated egos from reading “only the good bits. You need balance.”

As in all things, support can alleviate pressure, and unfortunately young, beautiful, talented, track cyclist Olivia Podmore never heard the message, never appeared to be out of her depth psychologically, and yet the day her New Zealand cycling team-mates returned home with their Olympic medals, she took her young life. Her support needs, in hindsight remarkably clear, after qualifying for Osaka but not being selected, were never identified... and now a family grieves.

New Zealand has gone back into Covid-19 lockdown this week as inflight protocols appear to have not been followed in one instance, but on that nation’s lips read... regret... we should have done better. RIP Olivia Podmore.

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