Before I start this week’s article I just want to say good stuff to the Hurricanes for winning last week against the Cats. It was an important win, not only because it keeps them away from the bottom of the table, but they also showed Wellington what they are capable of, and hopefully inspired the 100 or so Victoria Uni overseas students and lecturers to support them throughout the season. Big ups to those Vic people who got a mention at the game, and hope you continue to support the Hurricanes while you’re here.
This Wednesday the Olympic flame will be lit at a ceremony held in Ancient Olympia, in front of the ruins of the Temple of Hera, by actresses playing the part of the priestesses. The flame is lit according to an ancient method, using the sun and a concave mirror. The high priestess responsible for lighting the flame then passes it to the first runner who carries the official torch of the games. It will then travel round the world for 43 days before returning to Greece to travel through the country there. It will return to mark the start of the 2004 Olympic Games on the 13th of August.
On its trip around the world, the Olympic flame will travel through five continents, visit 26 countries, be carried by 3,600 torchbearers and travel around 78,000km. Then in Greece it will be carried by a further 7,700 people and will light the 54 prefectures of Greece.
On the 13th of August the Olympic flame will enter the stadium where the opening ceremony is being held. The identity of the final torchbearer is kept secret until the last moment, though it is always a citizen of the host country, and it is always a great honour to be given this responsibility. It is often a personality from the sports world or a young person symbolising hope for the future. In Sydney 2000, the final torchbearer was Cathy Freeman, an aboriginal athlete who was a medallist in 1996 and 2000. The final torchbearer does a lap of the stadium before lighting the monumental cauldron with the Olympic flame. A symbolic release of pigeons evokes the climate of peace in which the Olympic Games should take place.
While the Olympic flame travels the world, the serious business of Olympic Qualifying continues. Last week the NZ men’s hockey team did their thing and finished sixth, which is just enough to allow them to compete at Athens. Now the women’s team gets its chance with the qualifying tournament kicking off later this week in Auckland.
All around the world, competitors are training hard and getting as much practice as possible. This was clearly seen last week at the NZ National Track and Field Competition, with Australians and other nationalities also competing (though not eligible for a medal) to get up to standard.
What does it take to qualify for an Olympic Games team? It varies from sport to sport, though all competitors representing New Zealand are selected through panels appointed by the New Zealand Olympics Committee (NZOC). Some teams must qualify by winning the Oceania Olympic Qualifier, or by doing well in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (such as the NZ hockey team). Other people are chosen based on their international rank within the sport. Others still are nominated on their times and distances in their events in New Zealand.
If you’re thinking of entering the high jump, then expect to be jumping 2.30m; in the long jump, 8.20m. If you feel like running in the 100m then you’re going to be doing it in under 10.21 sec, but if you’re swimming that distance doing freestyle, then you’ve got to beat 49.66 sec. These times and distances might get you to the games in Athens, but don’t expect to be getting anywhere near the podium. the Olympic record for the freestyle 100m is 47.84, the 100m run is 9.84, the long jump 8.90m and the high jump 2.39m.
Those who are selected can consider themselves amongst the top athletes in the world for their chosen sport. Enormous reserves of willpower and many years of dedicated training are required to achieve this goal. Along with this accolade also comes responsibility; in order for the athletes to compete at the Olympic Games they must abide by the Olympic Charter and the rules of the International Federation responsible their sport. They will also be subject to dope testing, before and at the games. In the coming months, pressure will build upon these athletes as the climax of many years work comes to an end, and hopefully, victory as well.