The human side of Olympic Gold


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Tom Ransley. Photo: Zimbobo

Tom Ransley is an Olympic Gold medalist. He was a member of the GB mens 8 crew that had a clear victory in Rio. This followed on from the bronze he won in the same event in 2012. I remember Ransley when he stood on the podium in London, bronze hanging around his neck with a look of utter desolation on his face. At the time, that bugged me.

It seemed to me that he had no perception of where he was or what he had achieved. Their results leading up to the Games did not indicate that they would win gold and would struggle to make the podium. Their medal was a great achievement. That seemed to be lost on Ransley, who was at his first Olympics. He had something around his neck that most athletes would sell their grandmothers for – but will never achieve. I don’t know Tom Ransley from a bar of soap, but in my head I was telling him to  “get a grip”.

I only noticed he was back in the eight again when I watched their final in Rio. I was keen to see whether his crew mate Andrew Triggs-Hodge would get a third gold medal after overcoming a serious illness in the past 18 months. It almost ended his career. It’s stories like Hodge’s that keep the Olympics alive these days. The human stories that go with the athletic prowess.

After they won, I was hoping that Ransley would now feel an element of peace with his well earned gold medal. He had just spent another four years with the highly funded but utterly grinding system that has catapulted GB Rowing to the top of the leagues.

A week later, an article appeared on the Guardian, written by Tom Ransley. In it, he described the rather odd feelings he had after winning gold. It was a very honest piece where he was able to offer insight into the other side of winning gold. The human side. The side that most gold medalists don’t speak about too much.

Our gold medalists are expected to be a certain way. They are supposed to be joyous. They are supposed to show that winning gold at the Olympics creates unbridled happiness. They are supposed to show why working towards it for a lifetime is really worth it.

Each athlete has their own journey. Each gold medalist has a different interpretation of what winning means to them. Each one is entitled to react in their own way to what they have achieved. This is where the real stories of the Olympic lie.

When I looked at Tom Ransley on the podium in London, looking desolate with his bronze, I was putting my interpretation of winning medals on him. What I failed to recognise was that his individuality was determining his response. That was the real Tom Ransley and not the one I wanted or expected him to be on the podium that day.

His article on winning gold in Rio displays his humanness again. His willingness to show us the other side of gold is a refreshing narrative in an Olympic world that needs to celebrate the characters who play the games as much as sporting excellence. It is easier for us to clone “winners” so we can see that winning equals joy. It is easier for us not to look deeper.

Tom Ransley shows us that winning is a different experience for all of us and our winners don’t have to present the cookie cutter image of winning. In fact, it’s far more refreshing if they don’t. He earned the right to react to his medals whatever way he wanted. Not the way we wanted him to.