The Rio 2016 Olympics & What It Means To Be Part Of Team GB

I will be writing a number of blogs during the Rio 2016 Olympics, this is my tribute to the Olympic spirit, and my darling wife Elena Baltacha-Severino, who herself was a British Olympian. I will also Be writing about the many incredible experiences Elena and I had at the 2012 London Olympics.

Just like the tennis player at the Rio 2016 Olypimcs, Elena Baltacha-Severino was proud to be an Olympian
Elena Baltacha-Severino an Olympian, extra ordinary athlete and an incredible woman

Being Part of Olympic History

I think most athlete’s and coaches at the Rio 2016 Olympics, or any other Olympic Games, will say that being an Olympian or an Olympic Coach is one of the major dreams and ambitions they have. I think there are a number of reasons for this, the major one being that normally only the best athletes in their chosen sport are picked to be members of their country’s Olympic Teams.  Also the historical weight of the Olympics is a huge factor, which can be traced all the way back to 776 BC where the games were played out on the ancient plains of Olympia!

I think it’s safe to say that there is no other sporting competition in the world that can challenge the Olympic Games, it gives individuals the opportunity to be members of their country’s Olympic Team, and experience the camaraderie as athletes and coaches. Elena was in the same Team GB as Olympic Gold Medalist Andy Murray, and I had the privilege of being part of the Team GB Coaching Team that included our world beating Davis Cup Captain Leon Smith and the GB Federation Captain, the one and only Judy Murray.

Nino with Leon Smith and Ian Bates (Then Head of GB Women’s Tennis) Nino with Leon Smith and Ian Bates (Then Head of GB Women’s Tennis)

Elena and Nino with Judy Murray Elena and Nino with Judy Murray

The Beautiful Games

I was watching the Rio 2016 Olympics Diving competition the other night, and I was simply in awe of the mind blowing technical complexity that was on display, when I use the word “awe” I use it for a specific reason, basically because of its definition, “a strong feeling of respect or amazement brought on by something that is beautiful or sacred”. I think this pretty much sums up why, as sporting fans we all love to watch the Olympic Games, or any other sporting event where the best sports men and woman show their hard earned skills.

I can speak for myself and Elena in terms of how much it meant to us to be part of the Great Britain Olympic Team, Elena as a Team GB competitor and myself as a Team GB Coach. For Elena it was very important, her father Sergio Baltacha was an Olympian, who won Bronze playing for the USSR Football Team in the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Elena’s mother, Olga, was also picked to attend the Olympics as a Pentathlete in the same squad as Sergio, but she could not go as they had children. Olga had to sacrifice her spot because there was no one to care of Elena and Sergio Jnr. if they both competed for the USSR Olympic Team. I remember that Elena was very passionate and emotional about this; she wanted to become an Olympian not only for herself, but also in respect to her mother Olga who lost out on this great honour and opportunity.

Elena Baltacha at Wimbledon as part of Team GB
Elena and her mother Olga at the Olympics in London

Special Sporting Friendships

But ultimately sport is much more than the skill and the discipline that each athlete commits their life to, the Olympics for me is the ultimate representation of another gift that sport gives us and that is friendship. Friendships, relationships and all the positive experiences that every young child gains from the wonderful world of sport, are perhaps the greatest gifts, regardless of whether they reach Olympic standard or not!

When I talk about relationships, I was privileged to witness the very special relationship between my wife Elena and Judy Murray, for me, this is why sport is so great. It can enhance your life in ways that transcend sport itself. I can tell you that the love and respect Elena felt for Judy was simply amazing, and I know Judy Murray feels the same way, so much so that she agreed to be patron of Elena’s Foundation, and is still now committed as our patron, to ensuring Elena’s legacy lives on through programme’s such as “Bally Fun Days” which Judy delivers throughout the year.

Elena Baltacha and Judy Murray
Elena with Judy discussing tactics

Judy watching over Elena during her warm up before her match with Ana IvanovicJudy watching over Elena during her warm up before her match with Ana Ivanovic

Elena supporting one of Judy’s many events ensuring more young players join the wonderful sport of tennisElena supporting one of Judy’s many events ensuring more young players join the wonderful sport of tennis

Another great friendship that Elena and I developed was with Anne Keothavong, her Great Britain rival through so many years of climbing the ranks and fighting for the coveted Great Britain No.1 spot. At the 2012 London Olympics Elena and Anne used the Olympic Tennis event as a way of respecting all that they had both gone through in their long tennis careers. The Olympics had brought them both together to compete at the greatest sporting show on earth. It set the stage for a friendship between two very strong, resilient women, who both, against so many odds reached the top of world tennis. I was privileged to join my wife at a dinner held for both Elena and Anne, who retired in 2013, it was an evening I will never forget. It was a small affair with some very special guests who shared stories of Elena and Anne’s tennis careers, including Judy Murray and the great Louis Cayer, a truly masterful tennis technical coach and incredible human being.

Friendships That Last A Lifetime - The Rio 2016 Olympics Legacy

After the tragic passing of my wife in 2014, Anne has honoured their friendship by committing to our foundation as a valuable Ambassador who gives her time freely on court to support Elena’s players. This is what sport can give us, this is what the Olympics represents, the opportunity to join a sport, whether that be recreational or elite pathways, and develop skills that can enhance life in so many ways and find friendships that are meaningful and last a lifetime, this is the true legacy of the Olympics when it attracts our young children to sport, whether that's London, the Rio 2016 Olympics or Tokyo in four years time!

Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha
Wimbledon 2012 - Elena with Anne Keothavong, fellow Olympian and now commentator for BT Sports and the BBC

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