Turkish Delight: the media man’s story

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I’ll tell you what, Turkey isn’t half cold this time of year. And that, much to my surprise, was one of the hardest parts of my pre-trip duties: convincing people that Turkey was a country that is actually capable of -30˚C temperatures.

However, this was not nearly as important as doing my bit to spread the word that Team GB was competing in a remote corner of Eastern Anatolia at the student equivalent of the Winter Olympics.

University sport in this country is generally under-promoted. Partly because professional sport, and in particular football (whose players rarely, if ever, go to university), is so dominant, and partly due to a lack of tangible success to fire the public imagination. British student sport will, sadly, never be the draw that it is in the USA.

However, after being selected to travel as a media officer with Team GB to the 2011 Winter Universiade (Winter World University Games), I was determined to do my part to try and boost its profile, if only by a very small margin.

At the pre-Christmas briefing, it was incredibly difficult not to be able to spot the student in the room. As team managers and heads of delegation discussed transport timetables, student eligibility and dope testing, I was quietly, and with a slight sense of guilt, anticipating the display of the team kit. It was not disappointing.

Free swag is any student’s dream and when that swag includes Nike gear emblazoned with the Union Jack and North Face ski equipment, you know you’re onto a winner.

However, kit aside, I was there to do a job. Flying out ahead of the athletes, and a whole week before competition started, I realised it was not going to be a case of swanning around media suites and enjoying complementary beverages.

That really hit home upon arriving, after fifteen hours of travelling, in the remote mountain city of Erzurum, about 200 miles from the Iraq border. It was midnight, the temperature had bottomed out at -22˚C and the news was that Team GB had not been allocated enough rooms for the whole delegation. Not the best of starts.

Four hours later, and with the issue only half resolved, we actually managed to get some sleep; a whole three hour’s worth, if I rightly recall. It was a sign of things to come.

Administration, haggling with officials, shifting furniture, boiling kettles; these became commonplace in the average GB day. I’ve lost count of the number of times that kettle saved the entire team from perilous mental breakdown. God bless British breakfast tea.

Despite administration problems and the labour of setting up the team HQ, the whole atmosphere of the place changed with the arrival of the athletes, and not just the Brits.

The tournament saw over 2,500 athletes from around the world competing in eleven days of elite competition. Koreans skated alongside Mongolians; Venezuelans (or, I should say, the lone Venezuelan) shared the mountain with Austrians; Brit curled against Pole.

And yet, outside of the competition venues, athletes mingled, shared stories and jokes, and even swapped equipment (I myself traded a somewhat tacky tracky top for possibly the pimpest Japanese jacket you’re ever likely to see).

It was incredible to feel part of that kind of community, albeit in a slightly false position as a journalist rather than an athlete. It was, at times, difficult to reconcile the regular people you met around the village with the elite athletes you saw competing. It is all too easy to forget that professional sportsmen and women, who are idolised the world over, are regular people too.

And yet, being part of Team GB meant that government officials, F.A. doctors, figure skaters and snowboarders all worked alongside each other as equals.

That kind of proximity to first class sport, and the resultant interaction with athletes, always provides an incredible insight into any kind of sport.
And with that comes, inevitably, a new sense of appreciation. I had no idea that curlers picked dark bristles for their brushes in order to conduct heat more efficiently, and therefore melt the ice faster. I was oblivious to the fact that skiers spend a great deal more time waxing their skis in tiny rooms than practising their turns out on the slopes.

The attention to detail and the absolute commitment to preparation and execution was fascinating to see.

These are the things I suspect will ultimately have the greatest lasting impression. Whilst the travel was exciting, and the kit was unexpected, the experience was all.

If sport is your passion, whether it be on grass, ice or snow, events like this are a dream. For the student athletes who may never get to progress to a professional level, the Universiade undoubtedly represents the pinnacle of their career.

The same certainly applies for student journalists.

Andrew Magee
BUCS Media Officer

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