Blog Part 2- Brendan Sexton at the birth place of the Modern Olympics
12 July 2018
OLYMPISM IN ACTION: London 2012 Triathlon Olympian Brendan Sexton is in Greece for the annual International Olympic Academy's International Session for Young Participants to celebrate the Olympic Movement. Participants in the forum will discover the history of the Olympic Movement, learn Olympic values, see the great significance they can have in today’s society and share their Olympic journeys. Read Sexton's blog on his experience at the session below:
International Olympic Academy Session - Olympia, Greece
Week 2 & Wrap
Week 2 of the International Olympic Academy 57th International Session for Young Participants continued in similar fashion to Week 1. Now firmly entrenched in the session, the processes of each day were running smoother, and my fellow participants were becoming more familiar with each other and willing to share their own stories and opinions on the subjects discussed including the theme of the session: “Olympians as Role Models.” In these discussions I was able to learn quite a lot about the nature, delivery and value of sport in different countries and cultures.
Coming from Australia, where boys and girls alike are encouraged to participate in many sports from a young age and usually of the child’s choosing, it was interesting to hear the difficulties some people face in other countries just to participate in any sport, let alone a huge range of sport choices. Whether due to cultural restrictions, social expectations, location, financial limitations or, in some cases, the presence of war, I learnt how lucky we are in Australia to have not only such easy access to sport but active encouragement in participation and development from parents, schools and the broader community.
Another eye opening comparison of Australia to much of the world is the role of sport in the community. As an athlete who grew up always aspiring to be competitive: at club, regional, state, national and international level and ultimately Olympic level; I always viewed sport as an activity purely for contesting, improving and, ultimately, winning. Meeting and speaking with participants who were involved in programs that used sport in ways other than pure contest was thought-provoking. Other ways sports are used includes swaying poor health statistics in communities, providing inclusive environments for emotionally affected youth and even initiating peace between waring states, such as the united Korean women’s hockey team at the PyeongChang Winter Games consisting of players from both North and South Korea, which was a huge step for both nations towards peace negotiations.
I was surprised and humbled to have a Sudanese participant very shyly approach me after days of passing him around the grounds and ask to shake my hand and have a photo with me. He explained excitedly that I was the first Olympian he had ever met. I realised that compared to his country where access to sport is a privilege, I was extremely fortunate to not only have access to sport but also have many opportunities to make it my life for over a decade.
Outside the bulk scholarly activities there was an equal amount of physical programs. The sports competition, where my volleyball team was knocked out in the semi-finals (I won’t take full responsibility, but this triathlete’s body was not made to move great distances vertically), more inclusive cultural dances and performances and the Olympic Day celebrations. Obviously, being in Olympia, the site of the ancient Olympic Games for over 700 years, on International Olympic Day meant celebrations were obligatory. In the afternoon a torch relay involving all participants took place around the athletics tract on the grounds of the IOA. The lit torch took laps around the track with participants all either bearing the torch or the accompanying IOA flag. By coincidence I had the honour of bearing the torch last and carrying through the crowd to the centre of the field. After the relay we walked into the modern village centre for a fun run and street festival. The night ended with dancing at the town’s only bar, Zorbas (of course!).
The final day in Olympia saw the closing ceremony where we were all presented with our session diplomas and we presented the IOA president with a gift from Australia, a Boomerang. That night, after days of avoiding a cultural performance of our own (neither Sarah nor I have an artistic bone in our bodies) we were offered a joint performance with our hugely talented neighbours from the Cook Islands and New Zealand who laid down versions of the hula and haka, respectively (Sarah snuck in a cheeky “AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE OI OI OI”). The following day we were blurry-eyed climbing onto the buses and back to Athens. The session was officially over but that didn’t stop us having one more multinational goodbye celebration into the evening before departing Athens the next morning.
Going into the IOA session I had little idea of what the Academy was about or the true concept of Olympism. I was informed and challenged, and I challenged others and shared my own experiences. Having experienced these two weeks, I have a much broader perspective and understanding of the place of sporting role models in the modern world, the theory of Olympism, the role of sport and the power of the whole Olympic movement – beyond the Games alone. I give full thanks to Triathlon Australia for allowing me to take on this experience and of course the Australian Olympic Committee for offering me the opportunity to represent my country once again.