04 Oct 2015

Extract from Ka-Boom! – the time I tried to become an Olympian

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‘Hey, Bob. This is Destiny calling.’
So that Monday I phoned the national Olympic throwing coach.
As one does.
To protect his identity, we shall call him Bob. This is pretty
much how our conversation went:
‘Hi. Is this Bob?’
‘It is. Who is this?’
‘A future Olympian, actually.’
‘Really? You sound a little old.’
‘That’s weird. I’m only 34.’
‘I’m sorry. Why are you calling?’
‘I’ve decided I’d like to go to the Olympics.’
‘I think you’ve been misinformed. I’m not a travel agent. I’m
the throwing coach for South Africa. Hammer throw, shot-put,
‘I’m a javelinist.’
‘That’s not a word.’
‘Really? Sounds like it should be.’
‘Look, is this a serious call?’
‘Absolutely. I have a really strong throwing arm and I need you
to coach me. You know … privately. I’m happy to pay.’
‘Look, I think I have what it takes to get to the Olympics, but
realise that I need professional help with my technique.’
More silence as Bob wonders if he’s speaking to someone who
earlier in the day had been chewing his way out of a sanatorium.
‘I realise how iffy this must all sound, but I have a really
powerful arm. It’s rather immense. You need to trust me.’
‘But you’re 34.’
‘Men are at their strongest in their thirties.’
‘That’s a myth. They’re also slower in their thirties.’
‘But I’m double-jointed,’ (not entirely true – I have a semi-dislocated
thumb) ‘so the rules are probably different.’
I hear Bob sigh. ‘How far did you throw in school?’
‘Oh, we never had javelin at school. We didn’t even have field
events,’ I reply, then lower my voice. ‘Just grass, if you know what
I mean …’
Bob’s not in the mood for jokes. ‘How far did you throw at
‘Didn’t throw there either. Actually, online correspondence
colleges don’t have athletics tracks. And since we’re being honest
with each other, you should probably know that I’ve never thrown
a javelin competitively (or even uncompetitively). But I have
thrown a tennis ball into the Big Brother house.’
‘Are you having me on? Did someone put you up to this call?’
‘No, Bob. Unless destiny counts as a person.’
Bob ignores my witty retort and thinks for a moment. ‘Do you
live in Joburg?’
‘I do.’
‘And you’re really convinced you can throw?’
‘I am.’
‘And if I turn you down now, are you going to keep phoning
‘Phoning, texting and maybe hanging out in your driveway. It
would really be in your own best interests to give me a shot. I can
be quite annoying.’
‘Hard to imagine.’ Another sigh. ‘How’d you get my number
‘I used to be a journalist. I pulled some strings.’
‘Who gave it to you?’
‘Sorry, I can’t say. That would be unethical.’
‘And phoning me on my private number isn’t?’
At this point I thought it prudent not to reply.
After what seemed a long while, Bob spoke again. ‘Come out
to the UJ stadium on Friday afternoon at five. I’ll give you half an
hour. Bring a competition and a training javelin and we’ll see what
you’ve got.’
‘Uh, Bob.’
‘I don’t own any javelins. Could you bring some? That’d be
Friday afternoon arrives and Bob makes his way into the stadium
hauling a pair of javelins that are so long they look like pole vaults
to me. But they must be javelins because they have pointy bits at
the front.
‘Either this is an extraordinary coincidence or you must be
Bob. I’m Gareth. Pleased to meet you.’
As Bob shakes my hand I can see he’s scrutinising my bald
head and the wrinkles around my eyes.
‘Those are laugh lines, in case you’re wondering.’
‘You look older than 34.’
‘I’ve lived a hard life. Growing up we only had a maid three
days a week.’
Bob pulls a face. ‘I don’t have much time. Let’s see what you’ve
He hands me a blue-and-white javelin and points me to the
track. This is literally the first time I’ve ever touched a javelin.
‘That’s where you launch from,’ he says, pointing to a bit of
tartan that juts out from the track.
‘Yes, of course.’
Launch from. I like the sound of that. I take hold of the
surprisingly heavy javelin – it weighs a lot more than a tennis
ball, I notice – and make my way across the field. Having watched
plenty of javelinists on YouTube, I feel I’m well prepared for what’s
to come.
I turn back for a moment and cup my hands around my mouth.
‘As a matter of interest, Bob, what’s the automatic qualifying mark
for the Olympics?’
‘It varies, but London will probably be around 74 metres.’
‘Not 50 metres?’
‘You sure.’
‘I coach at the Olympics. Remember?’ he says, glancing down
at his watch. ‘Whenever you’re ready.’
All right then, I can pick up a hint as well as anyone. Time to
crack on. Time to show Bob the Crocker Cannon.
I take a breath. Then I imagine the stadium filled with thousands
of screaming fans. As AC/DC fires up in my ears, I begin a slow
run. As my feet hit the track, I consciously draw strength into
my right arm. I raise the javelin above my head and can feel the
pressure mounting in my shoulder. The cannon seems to have a
mind of its own now and I can feel that it wants to fire the javelin
right over the whole bloody stadium. As I near the throwing
line, I break into a sideways crab-run – which I intuitively realise
makes me look like a complete twat – before shifting my not
inconsiderable weight onto my left foot. And then the moment
is upon me. This is the bit in the Disney film where the cynical
coach has his face blown off by the explosively talented no-hoper.
Time to release the Kraken.
Then: Booooom!
Goes something in my elbow.
Holy sweet balls of fire in a horse’s vagina! It feels like I’ve snapped
every ligament in my arm. Oh the pain. The godless raw agony of
it all.
Knowing that I daren’t show any signs of fallibility, I try to
ignore my now broken arm as it flops about like a beached fish at
my side.
I turn my attention to the sky to see if I can spot the javelin.
I’ve watched enough footage of professional javelinists to know
that a javelin is supposed to slice through the air like an arrow
fired from a taut bow. It’s not customary for a javelin to tumble
arse over face before landing sideways.
I turn to look at Bob, holding back a grimace. ‘How far was
that? Fifty? Sixty metres?’
‘Maybe 20 metres,’ Bob calls back. ‘It’s hard to say. You didn’t
reach any of the measuring lines.’
‘I’m just warming up, Bob. Getting into my rhythm, you know?’
Bob makes an expression which suggests that he does not
I jog out to the javelin and pick it up with my left hand, praying
that the broken cannon will recover enough during the walk back
to the launch pad to allow me a few more throws.
Standing at the top of the runway, I can barely lift my arm
above my head.
It’s at this point that I begin to wonder if perhaps I’ve
overestimated my Olympianness.
However, having grown up in a house where for years we did
not have a remote control for our television, I’m well accustomed
to adversity. I’m not about to throw in the towel now. And so I
charge back down the runway, switch into the ridiculous crab run
and throw for all I am worth.
Fire and acid vomit out of the devil’s arse! It feels like my arm has
been wrenched off at the socket and is still attached to the javelin.
Gripping the remains of my ruined appendage with my left
hand, I watch as the blue spear flies straight up into the air, stalls
like a shot pigeon, and lands barely a few yards in front of me.
Had I dived forward it might well have impaled me in the back
of the head.
A decent person would’ve taken the moment on the chin.
Put up his hand for acting like an arrogant arse and for entirely
overestimating his ability.
Instead, I blamed the wind, bemoaned the decidedly secondrate
javelin I’d been given and started rubbing my injured
hamstring that wasn’t injured.
You thought I was beyond this sort of behaviour, didn’t you?
For shame, dear reader … for shame.

3 Responses to “Extract from Ka-Boom! – the time I tried to become an Olympian”

  1. karen miles says:

    excellent, was so funny and descriptive. really enjoyed it.thanks.

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