It’s my turn to travel today. It provides the opportunity to reflect on the last few months following Toni. Both our partners have commented that we spend more time talking to each other than to them. It’s hard to argue against. We do.

Flying solo

I first met Toni at a sports conference where he had been presenting. Later that evening, in the bar, we got into a friendly argument with Rugby League legend Denis Betts about drugs in sport (who’d have thought that one was heading the way it did) that quickly morphed into a discussion covering corruption, bureaucracy and Saturday morning television from the early eighties. Four years later the conversation hasn’t changed too much.

Denis Betts

After watching Toni coach I was particularly taken with the overall environment he’d created with his athletes. People wax lyrical about the All Blacks ethos (for good cause) but you don’t need to travel thousands of miles to uncover the mysteries of the silver fern. You just need to sit patiently on the M1 for a while and rock up at the English Institute of sport in Sheffield. Perhaps Toni’s approach should be mythologised a little, I just suspect he’d tell me ‘don’t be so daft’ and get back to comparing the merits of different chocolate bars with whichever athletes care to join in.

Humility, discipline, competitiveness, the constant search for improvement are all evident. Critically, right up there in order importance, is a self-deprecating sense of humour that crackles through the air. You see, if you’re not willing to take the piss out of yourself rest assured someone will do it for you. Being serious about success doesn’t need to mean taking yourself too seriously. On Toni’s watch, this is the order of the day. Everyday.

A case in point is the video below.

Let me set the scene. The long jump pit at the back of the stadium is ideal for shot put practice. Toni can watch other drills whilst the athletes can practice slightly removed from the school sports-day chaos that regularly ensues at track centre. Problem is, long jump and shot puts don’t mix very well. Flying through the air only to land on a lump of steel isn’t much fun. For this reason it’s essential to rescue all shots from the pit. This isn’t always easy as, on occasion, the shot defies the rules of physics and buries itself in the sand, sometimes magically transporting itself down and sideways into the pit. It has been known to take 45 minutes to unearth the hiding missile.

Two weeks out from the Olympics and a shot chooses to do its mystery vanishing act. Ten minutes of raking and it still won’t show itself. Here’s what happened:

There you have it. One of our greatest ever athletes digging in the sand for a shot. Makes you think.

The plane is coming in to land. Next stop, Toni and the team.