August 14, 2012
Garfuik, Zelinka and company return home
By SCOTT MITCHELL, QMI Agency
CALGARY - There was no time for lamenting losses or revelling in personal bests.
A comfy bed was first and foremost on the minds of Olympians after landing back on home soil Monday.
“Lots of sleeping in for a couple days — that’s what I see in my future,” said Calgary gymnast Nathan Gafuik, who battled a thumb injury which hampered his routine in London, where he ended up falling off the high bar during the qualification round of his only Olympic event.
Road weary, jet-lagged and beaten up after 16 days of competition, Gafuik, along with track star Jessica Zelinka and cyclists Monique Sullivan and Laura Brown arrived to a throng of media, family and well-wishers Monday afternoon at the Calgary International Airport.
Even though it was Gafuik’s third Olympic Games — he was an alternate on the 2004 team in Athens and competed in 2008 in Beijing — it was a surprising welcome after the nine-hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
“I thought I was just going to come meet mom at the airport,” said Gafuik, as his family patiently waited to get their arms around the 27-year-old. “I didn’t know all this was going to be here.
“I think we missed out on this (in 2008) because our flight was delayed getting in from Beijing or something like that, so I think all the media had gone home.”
As the images of triumph and heartbreak in London lit up TV screens across the country and inspired many, even the athletes were unable to escape the emotion and pageantry of the Games.
“There’s a lot of heartbreak out there, but everyone was getting right back up to try again and fight again,” Sullivan said. “It was completely overwhelming for one thing, but it was absolutely amazing. We live in this bubble of track cycling where we’re working really hard every day, but no one sees it,” Sullivan continued. “Hopefully, people were watching at home and saw it and it gets them excited about following their own dreams.”
Everyone noticed the 23-year-old’s sixth-place performance in the women’s keirin, and it pushed her into serious medal consideration when the 2016 Olympic Games roll into Rio de Janeiro.
“I don’t think there’s any athlete that doesn’t have it on their mind,” Sullivan said of Rio. “There’s so many things that you think of that you did that maybe you can do better. I think that’s on everyone’s mind — ‘What could I do better?’”
“Watching that tribute to Rio last night at the closing ceremonies was hard to watch,” the artistic gymnast said. “I’m going to have to think about it, and we’re going to have to see what I have left in me.”
Zelinka, who will turn 31 next month, was exhausted after competing in the heptathlon and 100-metre hurdles events and trying to juggle the compacted schedule.
“I definitely underestimated how gruelling it would be,” said Zelinka, who finished seventh in both events. “At nationals, the heptathlon schedule was very compact. It was a very easy schedule to compete well.
“In general, I felt more beat up — physically and emotionally. But then, to do the hurdles (after the heptathlon), I knew the only way to get a good performance was my mental game.”
Zelinka doesn’t seem intent on hanging up her spikes just yet.
“I’m still going to be competing,” Zelinka said. “It just depends what my focus is going to be at this point.”
For cyclist Laura Brown, who grew up in Calgary and resides in Vancouver, the next few weeks are all about making up for her hectic pre-Olympics schedule.
“This next month, I’ll spend time with friends and family and people I almost neglected for the past two years to be an athlete, and then I’ll make some goals and re-assess for Rio,” the 25-year-old said.
Reflecting back on the whirlwind experience will take time, Sullivan said.
“Now, I just relax and try to process these million thoughts going through my head.”
On Twitter: @SUNMitchell