I mentioned earlier the importance of making space in your life for the things you want. On 20 August 2000, the mental space I had created came together with the real, physical space in which we were going to win the gold medal, and I took advantage of the experience to inspire me.
On that date I breathed, felt and relished the experience of being the first to step onto the sand inside the huge stadium at Bondi Beach. I didn’t stand there wondering what might occur, what this stadium might hold for me. Internally I had already called it my own. Funnily enough there was a voice pulling in the opposite direction, in the form of a sign that said, ironically, “Ball Games Prohibited”. It could have served to reminded me of all the trouble the Olympic organisers had obtaining permission to erect the stadium, and all the protests from the locals, which were still occurring. But I decided to see the humour in it and laughed it off. Nothing was going to rob me of the power of that experience!
I stood in the middle of that stadium and in my mind I filled it with 10,000 Aussies, all cheering for Kerri and me. As I ran myself through that experience, my heart was in my throat and shivers went up and down my spine. It was an important thing for me to do, and it was one part of our preparation that would put me ahead of the opposition. I felt an overwhelming urge to feel a part of the stadium. I was soaking up the atmosphere and creating an image in my mind of a full house. I was marking my territory. I asked some painters working on the site if I could have a go at painting the stands. I felt I could be at one with the stadium if I could help in some small way with its preparation.
The more I prepared myself for the experience of playing in front of a home crowd, the less I would have to worry about it on the day. I guess it’s a bit like giving a speech. That’s an experience that often terrifies people. Many concentrate on the contents of the speech and neglect to address the biggest issue of all: the fear of getting up in front of all those people.
The best way to confront a fear like that is to do it in calmer times, when the thing that’s causing the fear is not actually physically present. You need to create the image of the crowd and imagine looking out at it. Run yourself through your movements and mentally rehearse things such as your attitude and approach. Remind yourself to enjoy the experience. In other words, understand everything about your reactions in advance and address them when there’s no pressure. When you concentrate on those processes, you remove all those mental barriers that prevent you from employing your true skill.
“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” Marie Curie
Other experiences helped me to develop a mood for the Games. Running with the torch in Byron Bay surrounded by everyone I love and drinking in their support helped me to connect my experience with theirs, raise my own expectations of myself and convince myself that I wasn’t going to let them down.
And then on 31 August, we arrived at what was to be our home for the forthcoming month in Sydney. It was at Randwick and initially there was some disappointment about not being at the village with the ‘big’ team. But we had to turn it to our advantage. The first thing Kerri and I did was to decorate the entire place with all the trappings of success and objects that inspired us. We hung a mock gold medal from the fire sprinkler on the ceiling and put Australian flags around the room.We also built a ‘scoreboard’ with our names on it and the score ‘15’ under them, so we could always see ourselves reaching 15. On the walls was my Yoda poster, Michael Jordan poster, and a gold swimsuit. I put up pictures of the view from my home in Brisbane, and of the stadium at Bondi, right next to my bed. By the time we finished decorating, it was a golden shrine!
And of course, there were the gold volleyballs, gold shampoo, gold toothpaste and my gold camera! Now we could call it home. There were plenty of reminders around that, at this stage, I was still a bronze medallist! On 3 September, we did an interview on Seven network’s Sportsworld with Bruce McAvaney. The theme? Bronze medallists from Atlanta. Michelle Timms was the other guest and of course the topic was “Can they turn bronze into gold?” Michelle said that every athlete dreams about standing on top of the podium but while she was saying it I found myself thinking “A lot of people do dream, but dreaming on its own doesn’t work. It’s only the start. It’s what you hold in your mind while you’re transforming yourself and your life in order to attain it. I might be sitting here as a bronze medallist, because that’s part of the game. But in my mind, I’m here celebrating my gold medal in advance!” I’d made all the choices (not sacrifices!) and done all the work that would lead only to gold.