- Arts & Literature
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By Matthew Handley
It’s not unusual to hear undergraduate rowers complaining about how little spare time they have. But spare a thought for the likes of Andrew Yang Bilski, who last year had to contend with the pressures of training for an Olympic berth in Greco-Roman wrestling as well as completing an MSc in Environmental Change and Management.
Now, with this qualification under his belt, Andrew is focusing his energies on securing his place at London 2012. “I haven’t qualified for the Olympics yet but I can imagine that it would be an experience of a lifetime,” he enthuses. “Representing your country at the Olympics is certainly the pinnacle for most athletes in any sport. It is an opportunity to see just how far I can go in a sport that I love doing.”
With preparations going “reasonably well”, Andrew is currently “taking a couple of months off after a training camp leading up to the first Olympic Qualifier in October 2011.” This is a well-earned break after an intensely busy time at Oxford.
“It can be difficult balancing full-time study with competitive sport and training given that both activities are very time consuming”, Andrew remembers, but the Olympic hopeful also feels that sport and study can be mutually beneficial. “They can complement each other in many ways. I often found that training was a great way to release excess energy and tension after a long day of classes or spent in the library. I also think that the pressure of sport provides you with a good incentives to manage your time efficiently and to study in a productive manner.”
That’s not to say that his hectic schedule is for everyone. While Andrew recognises the importance of exercise, he knows that the Olympian lifestyle isn’t one that most students will take to: “I think that some form of physical exertion is beneficial for everyone. Having said this, competitive sport may not be. On top of a higher training load, competitive sport also requires one to keep up a regimented diet and the management of injuries as well as video analysis of competition.”
Such dedication can take its toll. “It is this extra responsibility which may not be everyone’s cup of tea. For example, there were some long days of study where my brain was craving a sugar-boost and yet I had to watch my calorie intake as I was in a period of cutting weight before competition to make my division weight limit.” In a sport like Greco-Roman wrestling, these sacrifices are important, as athletes need to remain within specific weight ranges. But this is just one challenge of an exceptionally taxing sport – the physicality of wrestling means that injuries are frequent and aches and pains constant.
But for Andrew, the rewards of his athletic career outweigh the drawbacks, having competed for his country and for Oxford. “I have previously represented Australia internationally but I must say that captaining the Oxford Mens Blues against Yale University was also a very special experience. Whilst representing your country certainly brings out one’s patriotic side, there was something unique about competing for Oxford against Yale, an Ivy League university which has so much history in collegiate wrestling. Both experiences will hold important memories for me in their own ways.”
So who inspires an Olympic athlete? “I am a big fan of the Olympic Gold Medalist from Beijing in my weight division, Steeve Guenot. He is a skilful wrestler but, above all, a natural elite. He could have been a professional in rugby, soccer, or whatever sport he chose to do.”