It’s All in the Family

17 February 2010

You know the athletes. You may even know the coaches and technicians, but what about the people often in the background but responsible for athletes’ success? Meet the families; the people who help keep it real.

It was mini Australia trackside at the 10km sprint in men’s cross country as Ben Sim's support team cheered him on with a hand made sign saying “Go, Ben, go”.
 
Fiancée Sami Kennedy, who herself only just missed out on a spot in the Olympic Ski Cross team,  had thought about not coming but in the end just couldn’t miss the opportunity to support her husband to be, even if it meant sleeping on friends' floors around Whistler.

“This has just been his dream for so long and now he’s here and he deserves every bit of it,” she said.

If there was emotion pre-event, there was even more after, when Ben finished in the top half of the field, having thoroughly enjoyed his first Olympic experience.  

Ben’s father, John Sim, had decided in September that his family would be coming, even while Ben’s status with the team was unknown. “We decided we’d come and that if he was racing, it would be a bonus.”

It was more than a bonus, with Sim senior sporting watery eyes at the sight of seeing his son compete at the Olympic Games.  “It’s just overwhelming, we’re so proud, quite emotional. It’s just so special.”

But it's not cheap. Families pay between $25 and $300 for tickets to events their offspring or siblings are competing in, pay for airfares, accommodation and often have to make the decision to come to the Games months before the athletes know if they have even qualified.  

Ian Bottomley, brother of  Esther Bottomley, set aside around $10,000 to get to Whistler to watch his sister compete. After having watched her at the last Olympics, he wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

“It’s just the best thing. We went to Turin, you can’t not go. Watching her compete, that was the best day of my life, still is, there’s nothing like it."

The families don’t get to see the athlete before they compete.

“We’re not part of her normal preparation before a race, so we won’t be now. We just want her to stick to her normal routine and not get in the way. We’ll see her after”.  

After is when the fun begins, although siblings like Jermaine Cooper, 16-year-old sister of freestyle skier Ramone, has been having fun all along. With her brother now finished competing, her family plans to enjoy some time in Vancouver.

“I love it, being able to experience all of this, it’s crazy. We got to go to the athletes' Village, that was so cool. I’ve had the best holiday, travelling around just watching this one,” Cooper said, giving her brother a hug.

For the athletes, the support and family time post-competition is invaluable.

"It’s been great having them over here, it’s the first time for them to see me at an international event and for them to be at the Olympics – it’s the best event for them to come and watch,” Cooper said.

“We’re going to go out tonight and watch an ice hockey game and be amongst the Canadian fanatics. They’ve been having such a great time they'll be a bit sad to go home I think.”

It isn’t just Australians who have their families nearby. Ethiopian skier Robel Teklemariam had seven family members watch him compete, including his mother, twin brothers, a sister, nieces and nephews. His brother Benyam said seeing his brother, who hopes not to be the only Ethiopian athlete in future years, compete at the Olympics as surreal.

“It's surreal, that’s the best word. For the family, there’s obviously a lot of pride, he’s an inspiration. It’s great to see him fulfilling his dream.”  
 
Flip Byrnes
AOC - Vancouver

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