The Olympics downunder, a Kiwi ex-pat perspective

I asked a fellow Kiwi writer and best-seller author, Grant Leisham, to leave his perspective of this Rio 2016 Olympics, as a Kiwi ex-pat living abroad.

olympics new zealand, kiwi rowers 1972, Kiwi ex-pat

You know I have a soft sport for the New Zealand. I simply love this country. If you know that, you may also know that I have a lot of kiwi friends.

I asked one of them, best-seller author Grant Leisham, to tell me about how he lives the Olympic as a Kiwi ex-pat living in Thailand, a country that’s not really into the Olympics. Something that’s unusual for a Kiwi. Grant is an excellent writer, so you’re going to enjoy his story. Here it is!

Well, the Rio 2016, Summer Olympics are happening and I’m truly into the spirit of it all.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an absolutely committed Olympiophile (Don’t you just love it when I invent new words). I’ve loved the Olympics for years, ever since I fondly remember watching coverage of our New Zealand Rowing Eight winning Gold at Munich in 1972.

Prior to that and television coverage, we pretty had to make do with live radio broadcasts, which were exciting enough in their own right, but couldn’t convey the action in quite the same way as the new medium (for us anyway), television could.

Remembering the Olympics in New Zealand

I well recall watching those proud, young men in Black, the epitome of Kiwi manhood and staunchness, standing atop the podium, the New Zealand flag fluttering on the pole and the tears pouring down their cheeks. It was at that point I think I fully grasped the enormity of what the New Zealand Rowing Eight had achieved that day.

You see, Kiwi men in the 1970’s simply didn’t cry and certainly not on worldwide television. For that to have happened, my thirteen-year-old mind suddenly realised I must have been watching something very special unfold, that day.

I’ve religiously followed every Olympics since, winter games included and seen my fair share of joys, triumphs, disappointments and failures, but I doubt I’ve ever felt the immense surge of pride those victorious rowers gave an impressionable, young adolescent in 1972.

Watching the Olympics as a Kiwi ex-pat in Thailand

So onto Rio 2016 and funnily enough, as a Kiwi, albeit an expatriate Kiwi these days, it is the rowers again who will dominate the hopes and dreams of Olympic glory among fanatical, New Zealand Olympic fans.

The resurgence in New Zealand rowing has been phenomenal over the past ten years. We are back to and passing the glory days of rowing in New Zealand, the 70’s & the 80’s. New Zealander’s will look hopefully toward the waters of Rio for more Olympic glory this time around – and with good reason.

Domiciled now, in a country that has no real Olympic tradition, who’s Olympic team is probably no bigger than ten athletes and who’s free-to-air television coverage of the Olympics, is limited, to say the least, I will struggle to follow these games, as I did to follow the London Games in 2012 and Sochi in 2014.

Still, thank God for the internet! For us true Olympiophile’s there is always a way to get your fix and I will be getting mine every day for the next two weeks. Roll on the rowing finals and roll on Kiwi Gold! 

Le Olimpiadi da emigrato neozelandese

Ho chiesto a un collega autore, Grant Leisham, di raccontarmi le sue Olimpiadi da emigrato neozelandese in Thailandia. E mi ha detto un po’ anche di quando era giovane, nella terra dei kiwi…

canottaggio nuova zelanda, monaco 1972, emigrato neozelandese, olimpiadi

Sapete che ho una passione per la Nuova Zelanda. E quindi saprete anche che ho molti amici Kiwi. Ho chiesto a uno di loro, Grant Leisham, che scrive libri come me e ha un blog e che come me vive da emigrato neozelandese in una terra diversa dalla sua, di raccontarmi come sta vivendo queste Olimpiadi di Rio.

Parlando parlando, mi ha raccontato anche di come era seguire i Giochi in Nuova Zelanda quando lui era giovincello. Ovviamente, da bravo scrittore ne è uscito un bellissimo spaccato della sua vita. Ho provato a tradurlo qui di seguito. Buona lettura!

Queste Olimpiadi estive di Rio 2016 sono nel loro vivo, e mi stanno coinvolgendo parecchio. 

Da quando ho dei ricordi della mia vita, sono sempre stato un convintissimo Olimpiofilo. Vi piace quando mi metto a inventare le parole, eh?
Ho amato le Olimpiadi da praticamente sempre, e ricordo con affetto quando guardai in diretta il canottaggio e l’imbarcazione a otto della Nuova Zelanda vincere l’oro a Monaco 1972.

Prima dei Giochi di Monaco, la televisione non garantiva una copertura mediatica sufficiente. Dovevamo quindi arrangiarci con la radio, che trasmetteva la cronaca delle competizioni. Per noi era già abbastanza entusiasmante di per se, figuratevi che cosa sono state le Olimpiadi, poi, quando nel ’72 è arrivata la televisione, con le immagini e tutto il resto. 

Ricordando le Olimpiadi dalla Nuova Zelanda.

Mi ricordo molto bene la volta che ho visto alla TV questi giovanotti tuttineri, l’epitome Kiwi di virilità e fermezza. Erano otto, in piedi in cima al podio, la bandiera della Nuova Zelanda che sventolava sul palo più alto, e le lacrime a dirotto scendere sulle loro guance. È stato in quel momento che credo di aver completamente afferrato l’enormità di ciò che la squadra di canottaggio della Nuova Zelanda aveva raggiunto quel giorno.

Dovete sapere che gli uomini Kiwi nel 1970 semplicemente non piangevano. Non piangevano mai, e certamente non lo facevano alla TV, in diretta in mondovisione. La mia mente da tredicenne, nel vedere tutto questo, si è resa conto di stare assistendo a qualcosa di molto, molto speciale.

Ho religiosamente seguito ogni edizione delle Olimpiadi da quel preciso momento. Che fossero Olimpiadi invernali o estive poco importava: grazie alle Olimpiadi ho avuto (e ho) la mia giusta quota di gioie, trionfi, delusioni e fallimenti. E nonostante passino gli anni e le edizioni olimpiche si susseguano, dubito di aver mai provato l’immensa ondata di orgoglio che quei vogatori vittoriosi hanno trasmesso a quel giovane e impressionabile ragazzino che ero io nel 1972 .

I Giochi Olimpici visti da un emigrato neozelandese in Thailandia

E così dicendo (e guardando), sono arrivato all’edizione di Rio 2016. E stranamente, da Kiwi, sia pure stavolta da emigrato neozelandese, i vogatori del canottaggio dominano di nuovo le speranze e i sogni di gloria olimpica tra i fanatici e gli appassionati neozelandesi di Olimpiadi.

La rinascita del canottaggio in Nuova Zelanda è stata fenomenale negli ultimi dieci anni. Siamo di nuovo tornati ai fasti e ai giorni di gloria del canottaggio neozelandese degli anni ’70 e ’80. I kiwi di entrambe le isole, ma anche emigrati neozelandesi come me, vedono le acque di Rio come un nuovo bacino per nuove glorie olimpiche.

Adesso mi trovo domiciliato, da emigrato neozelandese, in una nazione che non ha una vera tradizione olimpica. Infatti, la squadra olimpica thailandese è probabilmente non più grande di dieci atleti. Di conseguenza, la copertura olimpica televisiva  è limitata, per usare un eufemismo. Faccio davvero fatica a seguire questi Giochi, così come ho fatto per i Giochi di Londra nel 2012 e quelli invernali di Sochi nel 2014.

Eppure, grazie a Dio esiste internet! Noi veri Olimpiofili troviamo sempre un modo per guardare i Giochi, e tifare per i miei connazionali Kiwi d’oro!

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How Olympics can inspire a generation

Raghini Rajaram took part of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony, and explains to us how Olympics can really inspire a generation. 

inspire a generation, london 2012, olympic opening ceremoniesI have the privilege of working with amazing people at Automattic, who every day strive to make the world a better place. I talked already about Allyson’s grandpa and his experience as an US rower at Berlin 1936, and Richard Archimbault has shared his views about the beauty of the Olympic Opening ceremoniesRaghini Rajaram, however, has actually took part of the London 2012 opening ceremony. She’s the perfect person to talk about how the Olympics are able to inspire a generation in so many ways. I leave the spotlight to her, and I hope you enjoy her powerful experience. 

Olympics do inspire a generation!

I have defined myself as a sports fan one from a very young age. Growing up, playing and watching sports can cure me of illness! Watching men and women give their best in any sport inspires me to do my best in every facet of life.

There is nothing bigger than the Olympics in the sporting world and being lucky enough to be living in London in 2012, I knew I had to find a way to be part of it. I auditioned for the opening and closing ceremony volunteer roles and I was ecstatic when I received this – yes, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Highlights of making an Opening ceremony

What followed was about 250-300 hours of work with some amazing volunteers, choreographers and Danny Boyle himself.

Some of the best moments include:

  • Meeting the legendary Danny Boyle and seeing his creative mind in action.
  • Receiving a letter from the Prime Minister David Cameron thanking us for performing in the ceremony.
  • Waving to all the athletes (including the ever jubilant Usain Bolt) as we entered the stadium to perform :)
  • The first time we practised at the stadium – it was not yet complete, but we were in awe to be there :)
  • The first dress rehearsal at the stadium, where we got to know what the noise would be on d-day!
  • The opening ceremony and everything that followed. Great Britain had a brilliant Olympics and I am proud to have been part of something that inspired a generation to get out and be active.

The cherry on top of the cake: the opening ceremony was on my 30th birthday.

I hope Rio 2016 is another step to inspire a generation, and every one of us to try at least one sport, do a little for our health, and try to be better than we were yesterday.

Le Olimpiadi possono ispirare una generazione di sportivi

La mia collega Raghini Rajaram ha partcipato alla cerimonia d’apertura di Londra 2012. Qui ci spiega come le Olimpiadi possano davvero ispirare una generazione di sportivi e creativi. 

olimpiadi, ispirare una generazione, londra 2012 infermiere

Raghini in posa con le altre “infermiere” del Sistema Sanitario Nazionale inglese prima della cerimonia di apertura di Londra 2012

Ho il privilegio di lavorare con persone veramente speciali ad Automattic, persone che ogni giorno, con il loro lavoro, rendono il mondo un posto migliore. Ho già parlato del nonno della mia collega Allyson, che ha partecipato alle Olimpiadi di Berlino 1936 nella squadra americana di canottaggio; il mio compagno di “squadra” Richard Archimbault mi ha contagiato la sua passione per le cerimonie di apertura olimpicheRaghini Rajaram, invece, una cerimonia d’apertura olimpica l’ha proprio “fatta”, prendendone parte come infermiera del Sistema Sanitario Nazionale inglese. Ho pensato che fosse la persona adatta per spiegare come un evento del genere, in seno ai Giochi Olimpici, sia in grado concretamente di ispirare una generazione di giovani potenziali creativi, sportivi, e “doers”, come dicono in inglese – ossia persone che hanno voglia di fare. Lascio la parola a Raghini, allora, e buona lettura!

Le Olimpiadi ispirano una generazione di giovani – e non è un cliché

Mi sono sempre definita un’appassionata di sport, sin da quando ero piccolina. Crescendo, guardando e praticando sport, la malattia per lo sport non mi è passata per nulla! Al contrario, guardare tutti quegli atleti che davano il meglio di se in tutti gli sport mi ha ispirato a dare sempre il meglio di me stessa in ogni aspetto della mia vita. 

Non c’è nulla di più grande delle Olimpiadi, all’interno del mondo sportivo; sono stata davvero fortunata a vivere i Giochi Olimpici sulla mia pelle a Londra 2012. Ero in città, non potevo perdere quell’occasione, dovevo assolutamente far parte delle Olimpiadi, in un modo o nell’altro. Ho fatto le audizioni per partecipare alla cerimonia di apertura e chiusura dei Giochi come volontaria. Sono saltata in aria dalla gioia quando ho visto che mi avevano accettata. Era una di quelle occasioni che ti capitano solo una volta nella vita. 

Le cose più belle dietro una cerimonia d’apertura Olimpica

Quello che è successo dopo che ho ricevuto quella lettera si può sintetizzare in circa 250-300 ore di lavoro con degli splendidi volontari, coreografi e con Danny Boyle in carne e ossa. 

Ecco alcuni momenti indimenticabili:

  • Ho conosciuto il leggendario Danny Boyle e ho visto la sua mente creativa in azione.
  • Ho ricevuto una lettera del Primo Ministro inglese David Cameron che mi ringraziava per la performance durante la cerimonia.
  • Ho salutato un sacco di atleti (incluso un sempre sorridente Usain Bolt) quando siamo entrati nello stadio per la nostra performance :)
  • La prima prova allo Stadio Olimpico – non era ancora completo al 100%, ma già era impressionante da vedere:)
  • La prima prova allo stadio coi vestiti di scena, dove abbiamo capito che razza di casino (in positivo) ci sarebbe stato il giorno della cerimonia!
  • La cerimonia di apertura e tutto quello che è seguito dopo. Il Regno Unito ha disputato una bellissima Olimpiade e sono molto orgogliosa di aver preso parte a qualcosa che ha ispirato una generazione a mettere il naso fuori di casa e fare sport. 

La ciliegina sulla torta, poi, è stata che la cerimonia di apertura si è svolta il giorno del mio trentesimo compleanno!

Spero che Rio 2016 sia un altro momento buono per ispirare una generazione di giovani – che siano sportivi, creativi, persone che vogliono cambiare il mondo e fare qualcosa di nuovo e di bello per tutti. 

9 great moments in Sonny Bill Williams’ career

This is the inspiring story of Sonny Bill Williams, an incredible and polyhedric athlete. Franz Vitulli has chosen 9 great moments in SBW career for us.

Sonny Bill williams,  rugby, olympics

The early days

Sonny William “Sonny Bill” Williams (SBW from now on) was born in Auckland, the largest and most populous city in New Zealand. He grew up in the Auckland suburb of Mount Albert. While his father is Samoan, his mother is of European New Zealander lineage, including English, Scottish and Irish descent.

He hasn’t grown up in a wealthy family; in fact, one of the reasons why he wanted to pursue the professional rugby career was to get his mother a house.
As a child, he’s been described both as a skinny boy and as an incredibly gifted sports talent. During his school years he was proficient with 100m, high jump and cross country running, and when he was called to play football—whatever its variant was—he’d play with kids who were two or three years older than him.

He was 12 when he left athletics to dedicate himself to rugby. He chose Rugby League, which his mother introduced him to, despite his father being an accomplished player.

1. Not downunder.

It was the 27th of March 2011, at Twickenham. Crusaders vs Sharks was the first match in the history of Super Rugby that was being played in the Northern Hemisphere. Crusaders won 44–28, and the first half was a remarkable display of actions that couldn’t look human to the eyes of the typical English watcher. The rhythm was twice as fast, the South African forwards looked bigger than any European prop, and the running lines from Crusaders’ backs were of utmost brilliance and beyond.

The something happened at around 5’00” (.36” in the above video). Dan Carter passed the ball to SBW, who saw a small hole in the Sharks’ defence. SBW decided to take advantage of it. He run on an nearly-straight line, and while he covered quite a few metres, he got tackled. Nevertheless, he managed to pass the ball the Fruean, the outside centre. It was the offload, the pass that made SBW famous in the world of rugby—any code of rugby.

2. The 80m try

Many sports video on YouTube dated 2009 or before look like coming from another era. It’s maybe due to the aesthetic details of the kits (design, cut, etc.), or maybe the poor video resolution. If you want to see how a player who now is older than 30 was doing at the beginning of their career, you’ll probably end up watching an old video.

I chose this video of SBW’s early years because it shows a side of him that is not the first one that typically pops up to our mind: he’s fast, and he could totally wear the 11 or 14 jersey if needed.

3. Sonny Bill in Japan

Go to the minute 2:20. SBW gets the ball from a lineout and scores a try. Japanese rugby improved dramatically over the last few years, but when SBW signed with a Japanese side it was 2012; no one could expect Japan winning against South Africa three years later—but let’s be honest: wasn’t it unexpected on the day before too?

SBW was wearing the Panasonic Wild Knights n.12 jersey, and the hooker of his side threw the ball as far as he could. When something like that happens, it’s either a mistake or a display of trust. We don’t know how much SBW trusted his n.2, but we’re rather sure the hooker from Ōta’s side would have trust SBW with his dog’s life at the very least.

4. Try! Try! It’s a try! Erm…

It was 2013, and SBW had just come back to Rugby League after a club career in France, New Zealand, and Japan. Pile up also an international career with the All Blacks (with whom he won the 2011 Rugby World Cup) on top of this. How can one expect him not to be part of the Kiwi team?

SBW took part at the 2013 RLWC (The Rugby League World Cup). New Zealand was the defending champion, but lost in the final against Australia.

I chose this video because it reminds us that SBW is human just like us, and just like us he has to experience gravity, slippery grass and all the other weird stuff that happens to humans. SBW was going to score a nice try against Samoa, but he slipped while attempting to score, and put his foot over the dead ball line.

5. His Sevens debut try

SBW made his Rugby 7 debut in 2016. His first try was set up by his team mate wearing the #9 jersey, but what’s remarkable is that it was literally the first time SBW had touched a rugby ball during a Sevens match. As he chats with a journalist after the match, the Imperial March from Star Wars is playing into Wellington’s Cake Tin, the stadium that—thanks to its round shape—kind of reminds of the Death Star, as if they wanted to celebrate a new leader for the Empire.
Back off, Kylo Ren.

6. Honey, my jersey got ripped off

New Zealand vs Tonga, first match of RWC 2011, was a tough match. At the end All Blacks won, but Tongans weren’t really going easy on their tackles, and SBW’s jersey—despite the fabric being special, at least so Adidas said—got teared apart during an action.
When he took his shirt off the crowd went bananas.

7. A gold medal isn’t just a physical object

When a kid managed to reach his hero SBW while he was celebrating his second World Cup, SBW gave him his gold medal. Media analysed SBW’s gesture by many angles: some said he’d been generous, others reported his attention seeking behaviour.
As a fan of Stoic philosophy, I like to think he got rid of his gold medal as it’s not a fair representation of his victory. Taking part of that whole experience was the real representation of that in fact, as well as the contribution of creating that legendary team, and so was the sacrifice of the kid who broke a rule to meet the new world champions.

8. SBW and boxing

Think that three rugby codes are enough? Then think again. SBW has been a competitive boxeur too: he fought in seven matches, which he won all (three by KO).

Although my boxing knowledge is fairly limited, I can appreciate the low-ish level of boxing that is being displayed in the above video. But honestly—who cares? SBW has often declared that boxing made him a better person, improved his self-confidence, and was a good training during rugby off-season.

9. SBW, Twitter, and the Olympics

Rugby sevens is making its Olympic debut in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics. SBW can only boost the awareness around the sport, which needs to cement its position as an Olympic sport.

SBW’s presence almost resembles the same importance of the Originals, the first New Zealand national rugby union team to tour outside Australasia. Knowing that SBW and Usain Bolt are chatting about rugby, while other rugby players are focusing solely on Sevens, can only get a better perception of rugby as a sport across the Olympic setting.

While SBW still wants to be decisive on the pitch, his media presence tells us he’s aware that his role as one of the few internationally-acclaimed rugby players at the Olympics isn’t less crucial.

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