Written by Susie Verrill


Why I’m not flying down to Rio

Susie Verrill‘s partner could win a gold medal at the upcoming Olympics. But she won’t be there to watch it. Here’s why.

The view from Sugarloaf Mountain may be spectacular, but when it comes to Olympic action, Susie will have a much better seat in front of her TV.

The view from Rio’s Sugarloaf Mountain may be spectacular, but when it comes to watching her partner Greg compete in the Olympics, Susie will have a much better seat in front of her TV.

Nearly four years ago, my other half won gold at the London Olympics; long jumping his way to victory and securing the official title of ‘that ginger bloke with the big smile’. Greg and I weren’t together in 2012 and I was at a wedding while Super Saturday unfolded; totally oblivious to the fact Great Britain was being great for once, I only checked out what had happened once I rolled in at 2am (probably, embarrassingly, via The Daily Mail app).

It was lovely to see; after weeks of moaning, “Oh well London’s going to be fun, awash with tourists while I try to get to work,” in the lead-up, I’d sat in my living room, glued to The Opening Ceremony, suddenly emotionally invested and aware of what a twat I’d been.

This time around, now I’m somewhat involved it’s even more of an occasion. With the father of my son one of the big names and the weight of cementing his title on his shoulders, I’ll be nervously watching not just as a keen spectator but as someone who wants to see their other half achieve their dreams. (I can promise you I’ve searched long and hard in my brain for a much less wanky, less overused term and I’m struggling, so this will have to do).

I can confirm, however, that we will be watching from home. Not in Rio, not shaking our tail feathers in a packed stadium. From the UK, in a living room, on tha telleh. And here’s a few reasons why.

For starters, Greg will be holed up in the Athletes’ Village from day one until he leaves and two weeks prior to actually competing in Rio he’ll be staying in a holding camp. He’ll be surrounded by athletes, coaches, agents and no one else. There will be lots of inane chat about hamstrings, sneakers and which coconut oil’s the best to use for cooking omelettes (I should imagine anyway; they’re not big conversationalists, most athletes).

“Last year, at an event in Birmingham, I was told to shut my pram in a broom cupboard of a stadium but wasn’t allowed to push it through the doors to get there. The mind boggles.”

Athletics, for the most part, isn’t glamorous and despite it often feeling as though I parent singlehandedly, Greg is actually one of the least selfish sportsmen going. It helps that he’s won things – because, to put it bluntly, that means he gets preferential treatment when it comes to accommodation and flights.

But genuinely, he just likes to have his family with him, so where he can he brings us along for the ride. Ordinarily sportsmen travel alone, share bedrooms and get to do zero sightseeing. Greg’s travelled far and wide while competing but combine knackering training schedules with the need to be off your feet 24 hours in the lead-up to a meet and it means the most you’ll see in the bulk of the destinations you venture to is the inside of a bogstandard travel inn.

UK meets are hit and miss ticket-wise; the organisers tend to provide a few VIP passes for family members but there’s nearly always an issue (whereby no one can locate them/your name’s not on the list) or something silly like the pram can’t be taken in the arena but there’s no alternative offered. Last year, at an event in Birmingham, I was told to shut my pram in a broom cupboard of a stadium but wasn’t allowed to push it through the doors to get there. The mind boggles.

If tickets haven’t been offered, we buy them ourselves. Only, of course, the corporate big guns and hotshots get first dibs, so we’re never sat near to where Greg competes; we get to enjoy about an hour’s worth of squinting and bellowing “THERE HE IS” to the Grandmas.

We can usually get reasonably close, but coaches and agents get to sit up front (although even they have a battle on their hands and each person’s hard pushed to get more than one allocation). All I can say is thank heavens Greg’s ginger; at least we can spot his fiery barnet.

Once Greg competes, he tries to sign/take selfies with as many crowd members as possible immediately after the final round’s finished and I’ve got a cat in hell’s chance of getting to the front to high-five him with a baby so I don’t even attempt to bother.

As soon as that’s done (which ordinarily takes him at least an hour at big meets) he’s whisked off to do media and have his wee-wee tested by men who probably wish they had a different job. All in all, Greg won’t get to hit the sack after the Olympics ’til 2am at the earliest.

When I watched Greg win at the Commonwealth Games, my friend Hayley, Greg’s parents and I were kicked out of the stadium so they could sweep the stands and we had to hang around the warm-up zone like weird lurkers, ’til two hours later we caught a glimpse of him being ushered into a minivan. I had to run my pregnant arse over to him so we could be driven to some programme Claire Balding was presenting where we both gave radio interviews, before I was dropped back at my Airbnb rental.

I think I spoke to him once and snuck in a quick hug. He, in turn, was driven back to the Athletes’ Village ready for the medal ceremony the next day and I didn’t see him for another 72 hours (aside from on the telly), texting sporadically in between physio and more weeing and more interviews; we didn’t get to celebrate properly until he returned home.

“For every person you see winning in athletics, three of their family members are sat in Row 27303Y wishing they could hug them.”

Looking ahead to Rio, about a year ago I began hunting for baby-friendly accommodation and found the results to be slimmer than a supermodel grasshopper. All the decent hotels and apartments had been booked up and I was left scrolling through photos of rooms which looked like they’d hosted grisly murders. But it was OK because at least they were all really expensive.

Then we took a look at the cost and logistics of travel. Remember the time someone had loads of fun spending £6,000 on flights to Rio and two days shuttling to and from a stadium without a pram but with a feisty toddler? No, me neither.

The Zika news has caused no end of concern if we’re totally honest. We’re not ones to worry unnecessarily, but after more than 100 medical experts stressed the Games should be moved to prevent the disease from spreading, this was a huge factor in us choosing to stay put.

We’ve also made the decision to have Greg’s sperm frozen. We’d love to have more children and with research in its infancy, I wouldn’t want to put myself in a situation which could have been prevented. Specialists still also don’t know the ins and outs of Zika, so even though it looks as though there’s no real issues should Milo get bitten, it’s just another thing we don’t want to chance.

When it comes to tickets, we’d still need to bid and I can almost guarantee we wouldn’t be anywhere near the long jump runway or pit, so we’ll have a much better view sat in front of the TV screen. Which also comes without the added bonus of a sweaty top lip from running around with my toddler son in a packed stadium. Plonk Milo in a living room full of relatives who can play with him while I focus on the TV? Or cry on the inside while he bum shuffles down 30 stairs in front of a plethora of cameras and grumpy officials. Yeah, I’m sold.

Telling people I’m remaining behind this summer is usually met with a bit of surprise and I understand why. I guess from the outside strangers expect the set-up to be a bit different.

Take the 2006 World Cup, where WAGS aplenty trotted round Baden-Baden, pissing off Sven-Göran Eriksson and managing to stay upright on wedged heels; that’s what comes with big sporting events. The entourage, the network, the families. That bit when someone’s won and out from the crowd bursts their other half, tears streaming and arms outstretched.

Rio 2016 official logoThat’s not what it’s like in athletics: for every person you see winning, three of their family members are sat in Row 27303Y wishing they could hug them. If you do see someone managing to get through they’re either so demanding/difficult they’ve been granted permission way in advance or they’ve fluked it.

Come August, Greg will be travelling to Rio to undertake a job and I’ll be staying at home. No less supportive than I’d be if I was there with him and with all our loved ones who also want him to succeed. And at least from the comfort of our own living room I can see his actual face, the Grandmas will know where he is and Olympic officials won’t be giving me the stink eye.

Good luck to my favourite: win or lose, I still won’t change the locks.


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Written by Susie Verrill

My name’s Susie, I used to work for sport/fashion magazines in London while feeling cosmopolitan. Now I’m a stay-at-home mum in Milton Keynes who writes during nap time and attempts not to drive to garden centres every day in search of company other than that of a one-year-old.