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By Tim Williams
“Sometimes you love sport. Sometimes you hate sport. But basically, you just love it.” John Inverdale on that middle Saturday of the Olympics in August with a line that you could say at any time and it would be just as true.
In pure utilitarian terms, though, the shared pleasure and emotion across the country on the night of Mo, Jess and Greg was probably the greatest it has ever been.
If that’s your number one personal sporting memory, however, then you’re going wrong.
Sport is gloriously good to watch but the rewards are superior for playing, having a go, winning, losing and getting fit. For many, PE lessons at school were about getting the sh*t kicked out of them on some muddy rectangle or being humiliated in skimpy shorts doing something which it felt like nobody could possibly enjoy.
Sounds familiar? Then let this term be a new start. You couldn’t be in a better place to create your own sporting memories.
The college sport system at Oxford, combined with university-wide opportunities, makes this foremost a place for having a go.
The hench arrivals will seamlessly slip into the rugby and rowing teams but make sure you don’t spend every day doing essays, whether you’re fit, fat or, like most of us, somewhere in between. Following the Paralympics, excuses for not being able to exercise are thankfully thin on the ground.
Don’t sheepishly stick to sports you’ve done before either. After two years here, my best memories are from rowing and, dare I say it, dancing – two sports I’d never done before. Ballroom cuppers has probably never before seen such a disastrous waltzer as me but, to be blunt, being bad didn’t make me stand out and it was wonderful fun.
Point being: don’t be scared, even if you’re crap.
For those aiming to fly higher kites, the fact that Oxford is as elite at sport as it is at education is no secret, as was abundantly on display over the summer.
The golden boy of British rowing, Trinity College’s Constantine Louloudis, battled through a late injury scare to make the line-up for the men’s eight in the Olympics yet left the lake reportedly declaring: “A bronze was not what we came to get.”
Forgive me, I omitted a bit. Sport’s only about having a go until you lose. Then it’s about trying to win. I’ve yet to hear a persuasive case that this is a bad thing.
Meanwhile, Lawrence Okoye casually put a place at St Peter’s on hold to fulfil his Olympic discus dream. All right for some, one might say, but it proves a point in its own way.
So does the story of Davis Tarwater. Two years after completing his Masters at St Antony’s, the American swimmer can now hang a gold medal round his neck. Despite winning his freestyle relay heat, he experienced the brutality of top-level sport by making way for Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte come the final. Not half as brutal, mind you, as when he missed out for the 2008 Games by one spot.
Tarwater then came to Oxford prepared to retire before he was persuaded to swim for the University by the club captain. Reluctantly, he took it up again. In doing so he rediscovered his love for the pool and proceeded to break nearly all the club records that existed en route to a successful Team USA comeback.
“If you want to be good at anything,” he says, “Whether it be academics or athletics, you have to strike a balance. I’ve been a better student when I’ve been an athlete and I’ve been a better athlete when I was a student.”
Wise words indeed.
PHOTO// Patrick Doheny