August 16, 2002
Runner's Web Special Report
Natasha Filliol, who was profiled on the Runner's Web in February of this year, provided this report of her Commonwealth Games experience.
Natasha with husband Joel at the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester England
Commonwealth Games 2002, Manchester, England, Aug 4, 2002.
Qualifying and getting the opportunity to compete for Canada at the Commonwealth Games has been the highlight of my career so far and now I get the chance to share it with you!
After competing at the World Cup in Cornerbrook, my journey to the 2002 Commonwealth Games began. My husband Joel and I flew with the rest of the team to England via Toronto. It was a long trip from Dear Lake Newfoundland to Manchester England, but I managed to get some sleep on the planes and I didn’t feel too bad on arrival. In Manchester we were welcomed by the Games committee people who bussed us from the airport to the Accreditation Centre where we got registered and we given our ‘ID tags’ that we wore for the rest of the trip and allowed us access everywhere. From there we went to the Athletes Village, which actually Manchester University taken over by the athletes and officials of the Commonwealth. Once checked into the Canadian area of the Village, we received all sorts of things, one of which was a huge suitcase containing the uniform. I felt like a little kid in a candy shop for the first time ever! There was over thirty pieces of clothing, including jackets, pants, t-shirts, and even dress shoes. Since this was my first Games experience, I was unaware of all the stuff we’d receive as a Games team member. It was awesome!
We got a tour of the Village, which was a pretty good size since it housed 5000 athletes and officials. The Village was fully equipped with a dining hall, medical centre, Web centre with internet, games room, gym, post office, hair salon, florist and many other shops. Everything an athlete would need to feel comfortable for ten days!
The Opening Ceremonies was very exciting for the whole triathlon team since it was everyone’s first Games opening, as the Sydney Olympians couldn’t march in their opening as the triathlon was on the first day of competition. As you might imagine, it was a big production. All the Canadian’s assembled in the courtyard all decked out in our team uniforms, proudly waving our Canada flags. We were bussed to the big athletics stadium where we were further assembled and waited for our queue to march into the stadium. For me this was the highlight! Marching into a stadium of 60,000+ people sent shivers up and down my spine, especially when we saluted the Queen. There was music and lights galore and introductions and the official opening of the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The Opening was truly spectacular and by the end of the night I know that our team was on a high!
Upon return to the Village that night though, the triathlon team wouldn’t go to bed on a high. We were asked to meet in the dining hall and it was there, while eating a bedtime snack that we were informed about Kelly Guest testing positive for nandrolone. What a shock! We had just returned from the Opening so pumped and when we heard this bad news it felt like someone had socked me in the stomach. That was a restless night and so were the next days to come for the Canadian Triathlon team.
The next morning a press conference was held for Kelly and we all attended to support him and be there for him while he told his story. It was an extremely difficult thing. It was like a funeral. Our team united to face this challenge the best we could and we helped each other through this tough situation. Once we saw Kelly off as he headed back home to Canada, we knew that we still had a job to do. We had planned to go a training camp in Wales to get some quality training in before the race, and we all thought it would be good to get out of the village for a while. It was time to get back on track and refocus for the race, and minimizing the distractions would help us do that.
After organizing some rental cars to make the 90-minute trip, we managed to navigate through the city and across the countryside to our camp on the Irish Sea. The Scottish team was also training in the area and we coordinated a few sessions with them. The camp was located near a town called Flint on the Irish Sea and it really was a training camp – as we were staying in campers, or Caravans as they are called in the UK. The caravans were quite an experience! I felt like a munchkin in munkinland! Lets just say it’s a good thing I’m a small person and not claustrophobic person! I honestly don’t know how people can live in caravans. I guess being from North American we take our space for granted. Anyways, it was fun and we all had a good laugh every time we bumped into each other!
The Tuesday before the race we returned to Manchester and once again enjoyed all the luxuries that the Athletes Village had to offer. This is the day that it started to rain! Up until this day the weather was mild and in the low 20’s. But from this day to race day it was typical England weather.
The Wednesday before the race was a rest day for me. Finally a day to sleep in and do whatever I wanted! Of course I spent most of the day horizontal since up to this point in the trip I was a bit on the sleep-deprived side. I also got massage (offered by the great medical team that Team Canada had in the Village). But the best thing was the hot/cold bins! Usually when I have a rest day and I’m at home I make sure to kurplunk myself in front of the TV set for and hour or two, so I felt right at home in the Athletes lounge watching TV, but no regular shows, the live broadcast of the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester England! We also watched some of the events on TV at the caravan, but watching in the Village was so much more exciting. All the different athletes from different sports were huddled around the TV sets, cheering for their teammates and sharing in their victories. It was awesome! It was so inspiring especially to see Canada do so well and I was really getting pumped for my race.
The Thursday before the race the Tri Team headed down to the race site at Salford Quays, where we did some training on the course. There was a lot of controversy about the swim and whether it was safe to swim in and all the locals that we spoke to were concerned for our well being, as the water around the Quays is notoriously dirty. Well I have to say that the Games Committee did a great job cleaning up the water. I have definitely swum in worse! This didn’t mean that we didn’t chug our bottle of Coke after every swim we did in the Quay. Apparently the acid in Coke helps flush the system and even though the water appeared clean on the surface, it’s the microorganisms that the naked eye can’t see that are harmful.
The bike course was four loops and took us down the highway to the centre of the city and back to transition. It was a flat course with lots of cobblestone roundabout and train tracks. A bike course that would be very dangerous if it rained! The run consisted of three loops around the Salford Quays, which was generally flat. Each loop bypassed the stadium where the Manchester United football club plays, went around the finish chute and up and over the bridge. I was looking forward to having a fast run on this course!
The Friday before the race the team went back down to the race site to do the swim pontoon draw. If you know anything about World Cup triathlons, you’d know how important it is to get a good position on the pontoon! Everyone has their own strategy, depending on your strengths and weaknesses and before this particular race a lot of energy was expended trying to decide what spot was the shortest line, what was the fastest line and most importantly what side of the pontoon the Aussies would choose! We spent some ninety minutes pacing from one side of the pontoon to the other! This is always a very challenging and tactical thing especially since the draw is blind, which means you don’t know who you will be beside and it could really make or break your race if you aren’t a front pack swimmer. In the end I couldn’t have chosen a better position! I ended up with one of the shortest lines and I was surrounded by fast swimmers, so I was happy with my decision, which is always good for your confidence before the race.
The Saturday before the race I was surprisingly relaxed but very excited! For me the big goal of qualifying for the Games had already been achieved and what I accomplished here was a bonus. Of course I was ready to race fast and my training had been going really well, especially my swimming. I set my sights extremely high and found myself daydreaming numerous times about standing on top of the podium! But I also had to be realistic and looking at the women’s field there was some stiff competition. In fact a few of my fellow competitors had been to previous Commonwealth Games in running alone. I was shooting for a top ten finish, which I think was a tough but realistic goal. I knew how important the swim leg was and that it would pretty much set up the outcome of the race, so I visualized a fast swim for Sunday……….
Sunday came and went like a flash! It was an early 8am race start, so I was up early to eat my small breakfast. Joel and I met with the rest of the women’s team and we took a shuttle to the race. On the way there, I couldn’t believe the day had finally come! I reflected back on my hard training leading up to this and all the challenges that I had to deal with that made me a strong athlete. I thought of my support network that included all my friends, family and sponsors and how much they had helped me make it this far. I gave myself a good pinch and made sure that this was real!
Up arrival to Salford Quays, I was met by my biggest cheering squad! My parents and my in-laws, who actually arrived to the race before I did and were well adorned in their Canada digs! I was very glad to see them and they were so excited to be there with bells on! I did my pre-race rituals and began to warm up and that’s when it started to rain. Well it was going to be a challenge out there on the bike that’s for sure. After they did the introductions of the athletes, we took our position on the pontoon and then
“You’re in the hands of the starter…..Bang” and just like that it was game on!
I had a good clean start and got on fast feet as soon as possible. The pace felt wickedly fast and it wasn’t long before things got spread out. By the first buoy I found myself leading the second pack. I knew this wasn’t ideal for having my breakthrough swim because I would definitely go faster if I were on fast feet. But I also knew that I was swimming strong and that I just had to go like heck! After one loop, I continued to lead the second swim pack. By the end of the swim, I started to prepare for a fast transition onto my bike. Exiting the water, I found myself with two strong women, Eveylyn Williamson from New Zealand and Michelle Dillon from GB. The rain had made things as slippery as I have every experienced so the pace was very slow around the cobbled corners. After the first loop, I had too much speed approaching the roundabout for the slippery conditions and nearly went down. I maintained my balance though and after that I started saying my prayers so just to stay upright on my bike. It wasn’t long before our little group caught Aussie Michellie Jones (Olympic Silver Medallist and multiple World Champ) and we all worked well to try and catch the leaders. I was pretty excited to be in such a good pack, and I felt strong, strong enough that I think I did more than my fair share of work. Despite our pack’s horsepower, we still lost time to the lead bunch and at the end of the bike we were about 2 mins 30 down. Coming off the bike I had a fast transition and ran with my pack for as long as I could. Early in the run, I found myself struggling to find my rhythm, but I had to push hard since this is my strength and usually where I shine. I held with Michellie and Michelle for about 2km and then started to fall off the fast pace they were setting. Halfway through the 10km, I could see that my goal of getting top ten wasn’t far out of reach. I dug deep. I could also see that my teammates Carol and Sharon were both racing up a storm! It looked like Carol was in a solid position to take the win and Sharon was running in the top five. Awesome! On the third lap I used the crowds energy from cheering to push me along. After the cresting the bridge for the last time the finish line was in sight! I finished in 12th. Overall it was a solid race, not my best of the season, but I did my best on the day and that’s all I can expect.
While Triathlon made its debut in its first ever Commonwealth Games, I was part of the team that made history! And while my sport made its debut, it was also the last event of the Games themselves. That night after the race was the Closing Ceremonies and I felt kind of sad that it all came to an end. But as they say “All good things must come to an end”!
The whole trip from day one in the athletes village right through to the Closing Ceremonies was an eye opening experience that is a stepping stone in helping me achieve my ultimate goal, the Olympic Games in 2004.
For photos from the Games, see my site at: http://www.natashafilliol.com
Thanks for all your support,
Visit Natasha's web site at : www.natashafilliol.com
Read the Runner's Web interview with Natasha from February of this year from the : Runner's Web