Gary Player’s Rio 2016 diary

2016-08-10 13:09
Gary Player (Getty Images)

As I prepared to leave my beloved farm, I packed my bags with a sense of anticipation, pride and excitement to be leaving for Rio as the first ever captain of South Africa’s men and ladies golf teams.

I am especially enthusiastic to see golf back where it belongs, in the Olympics - the greatest stage for sport - after an absence of more than 100 years. Naturally, I was disappointed with the withdrawal of some of our top-ranked players, but as captain of the team, there was not much I was able to do. This just opened doors for other South Africans and I will be rooting for them all the way.

We touched down in Sao Paulo, where I nearly missed my connecting flight. I think we made it by just three minutes! In my rush to make my flight, my suitcase with all my Olympic clothing was left behind. Even after 63 years of non-stop travel, this can happen to anyone.

However, thanks to my wonderful support team, they spotted my Black Knight luggage among all the other athletes’ bags and knew I must have forgotten them. After a smooth flight into Rio, my transport from the airport to the Olympic Village was quick and efficient. We even drove past the Gavea Golf Course where I shot a 59 during the 1974 Brazilian Open, and then arrived at the Olympic Village at around 23:00.

After showering and freshening up on Friday morning, I made my way to the dining hall for breakfast and what a breakfast it was. I must congratulate the Rio Olympic Committee for the brilliant organisation. There are about 11 000 athletes in this Village, that are fed, housed, looked after, transported, have all the amenities they desire, and yet everything runs so smoothly. I know what it is like trying to feed six children and 22 grandchildren, never mind thousands of demanding athletes.

In the time I was acclimatising to Village life my wife, Vivienne, arrived at her hotel to support me as she has for the past 63 years on the road. It was fantastic seeing her after three weeks apart. We enjoyed a wonderful day together checking out Rio de Janeiro, which is a beautiful and vibrant city.

And last Friday night was met by a spectacular and world class event, the official opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. I was a little hesitant and confused dressing up in a 1990s style tracksuit for an opening of that calibre, however, I was obliged. And off we went, transported through a maze of people, buildings, traffic and roads to one of the most spectacular stadiums in the world. Entering the Maracanã stadium third out of more than 200 countries sent shivers down the whole South African team’s spines. I have not felt this proud being a South African for many years. The lights, the screaming fans and being surrounded by the world’s best athletes was truly special. Being a golfer, I have never walked into an arena filled with nearly 80 000 people. It gave me chills. The people of Rio afforded all the teams such a warm and enthusiastic welcome. The evening went like clockwork and at the end of a long night; I was reunited with my army-style bed at around 02:00.

I’m looking forward to the start of the golf competition this week and am holding thumbs for the South African team. I’m sure they are going to be able to compete well against the best in the world.

Gary Player is the most successful international golfer of all time and is the captain of South Africa’s golf team at the Rio Olympics. He will be sharing his experiences of the Games for Sport24.

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