• Mon
  • Sep 22, 2014
  • Updated: 12:16am

Roald Bradstock

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 July, 2012, 12:00am

FUN AND GAMES I was told not to do any sport when I was diagnosed with spina bifida. My mother had noticed that my head was growing in disproportion to the rest of my body, and I remember being six years old in hospital looking at an X-ray of my back. The doctor told me to walk away and come back, looked at the X-ray and said he was surprised I could walk. They were worried about me doing sports, being hit and not being able to walk again, so I wasn't allowed to do any contact sports. At the same time I saw the 1968 Mexico Olympics. I watched it on the black and white TV in my parents' kitchen, and I was just fascinated by it. I saw the javelin and knew that's what I wanted to do - I wanted to throw the javelin at the Olympics. I was already getting in trouble for throwing things - I used to get bamboo sticks in the garden and pretend to be a javelin thrower. The first time I got a javelin in my hand was in 1973, during a PE [physical education] lesson at school. I threw 27 metres at age 11, and that was really the beginning. I started training seriously in 1976, aged 14. In 1980 I broke 70 metres and that was when I realised I really could make it at an international level. But I did it a week after the Olympics, so I just missed out. Part of the appeal of the Olympics is that it's only every four years - it partly depends on when you're born, and you might get sick or injured, like in 1984, when I was in really good shape and then tore an abductor [muscle] on the first throw [during the Games]. My Olympic career almost never started.

TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS I became a United States citizen in 1995. I got married there and went to the IAAF World Championships with the US team in 1997. I was 35 and even then I was the oldest on the team. But I never lost my British nationality and decided a couple of years ago to try to compete for Britain again. I got clearance from the IAAF - and then the next part was getting into the trials. [This year] I took part in my eighth Olympic trials, back in my home country [Bradstock represented Great Britain at the 1984 and 1988 Summer Games]. I had been training for five hours a day - that's a lot at my age. It was very windy, very difficult conditions, and I knew that would affect the young guys. I knew I was going to do it, and I consider it my greatest achievement, because of the uniqueness of it. I threw a world record, I got second place and I was the oldest medallist since 1936. I didn't make the Olympic team, but I was only a heartbeat away.

PERFORMING ARTS I told my wife before the trials that if I didn't throw well, I wouldn't wear the hand-painted outfits [Bradstock created one for each throw of the event, with matching hand-painted javelins]. The officials warned me beforehand. They were adamant about me obeying the rules, so I had to wear the official vest, but there was nothing to stop me wearing an outfit that matched that vest. I wanted to throw well, but I also wanted to combine something athletic with something artistic. I see it as performance art. It's about creating something that gets a buzz. Suddenly the TV cameras are on you, everyone starts clapping and cheering, and the spectators become part of something unique. The key thing now is I can have fun with this; 20 years ago I was so serious.

DRAWING INSPIRATION I've always drawn and painted, and I've always done sport - the problem is combining the two. It was one reason why I went to the States. If I'd stayed in England, I'd have had to choose, but in the US I could train full time and study full time. It was hard - usually in drawing and painting classes you need to stand up, but I had to sit down because I was so exhausted. It's been in the past 10 years that the two have melded together. I see connections I never used to see - it's something I didn't see for 40 years, but now it seems so obvious. What I'm doing in my art is representing visually what athletes do physically. It looks like what a swimmer or a cyclist feels like, endlessly repeating until it's perfect. When people say to me, 'That's how it feels,' that to me is the biggest compliment. And sport is the perfect subject for art - it's about form in motion.

JUST A NUMBER When I was growing up, I was told 30 was the barrier - you can't be an athlete after that. Then people started to break that - people in their 40s started to compete at a very high level. So what about 50? Where are the actual physical barriers rather than the mental limitations? Your body talks to you - the key thing is listening. I've had to change the way I exercise, use a bit of creativity, make it more about fitness and risk management. One reason I'm still around is that I've never had surgery. I'm open to trying new things and I've always been willing to make changes. When you get older, you want to do the same thing. People ask how a 50-year-old can still be competitive at a high level against teenagers with funding and coaches and so on. Part of it is that while the talent's there, a lot of people just keep doing the same things. I like to surprise people, do the unexpected, play with these young egos. I can use it to my advantage. Everyone asks me if I'm going to try again in 2016. I haven't ruled it out entirely. I'd say: 'Ask my wife.' It's an option, but it depends on what my body's like in three years' time. If I do it, it will be just to be there. You could call it stubborn or tenacious. Because of all the hurdles I've had to overcome - from spina bifida to the age I am now - I want to be a living example of what can be achieved with patience and determination.

An exhibition of Roald Bradstock's artworks, titled 'Picasso de Sports', is on display in the atrium of Park Central, Tseung Kwan O, until August 19.

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