My first job when arriving in London was to drive to the international railway and pick up Dani and her Coach Denis Knowles after a succesful pre London campaign which included a victory in the Paris Diamond League where she beat the eventual Olympic champion and also a solid 2nd place in a lead up meet in Germany. Her coach's first comment to me " she will be ready, it's coming together at the right time"..
Hearing this from him is not a cliche', as he is my father there is always honesty, he would never just say that to me ( if it wasn't going well he would tell me ) so hearing this gave me great confidence from the start. It's something we always do which is trust the plan, trust is crucial in any plan and commitment to it is something Dani does like no other. My next job was to be there to help team samuels throughout the training camp in Tonbridge, mainly in the gym but just anything I could to be there for her and her coach on and off the track. London 2012 was something which meant a lot to me and all Allstars support crew as we knew what it meant for Dani. Everything we have ever done was always a stepping stone to London, the world titles, the Olympic final in 2008, all the days training harder than anyone you can think of, the sacrifices by her and so many around her, everything was for this year. For me I was proud before she even flew out...I remember the early days when she use to turn up with her parents and a family full of kids in the green Mitsubishi van. They were the best family.. They would spring out of the car with such enthusiasm you couldn't give them anything less. Mum and Dad were very sporty, very active, her brothers and sisters very athletic and competitive. They took nothing too serious and track and field was fun for them once or twice a week. It was in the family that she would always succeed.
The training camp in Tonbridge was fantastic. The facilities world class and the preparation by Athletics Australia was also first class. I was there as a personal coach to her and only occasionally had to throw the managers hat on with some media and dealing with one or two things back home, other than that my priority as a manager meant let all the focus be on the training.
This period was a smooth preparation, the wind conditions didn't allow the type of throws that give you huge confidence but Dani had recent performances to draw on for confidence. She was not alone in this as all throwers struggled for huge distances in Tonbridge. Dani had some great company amongst her team mates and one of them being Kim Mickle, do yourself a favour and watch her on youtube (Kim Mickle tricks). A fun day before weight training was to challenge her and kim with a game of basketball. My father and I were smashed ( we didnt want to go hard as we didn't want any injuries and were all about their confidence... yeah right!!!)
Dani's starength training priority was to sharpen up and turn everything we had to speed, I have never seen her look so sharp! I had one of Dani's sydney training partners and allstars team mates Jake Stein with me who was great to have around. The hug Dani gave Jake when she first saw him to welcome him and also congratulate him on his world junior silver he recently won in Spain was priceless and showed the 'Allstars family'
The camp lasted about 10 days and then she was off to the village. This is where I received messages from Denis that it's all coming together. 65m throws before qualifying and a real belief in her ability.
Qualifying on the 3rd of August.. Jake and I meet Denis before he goes down the front row of the beautiful London Olympic Stadium that was set to put on what would eventually be the best track and field meet in history.. "she's ready" he says. Jake and I run up the stairs to our seats like kids going to their first football game at ANZ stadium, excited, confident and nervous. Not nervous in what she can do but just nervous for her. First throw is ok but not far enough.. 2nd throw was a foul.... wow, talk about taking us on a ride with her. She has been in this position before and I had full faith in her capabilities but being in that crowd and feeling the pressure with her was incredible. Pressure did not phase her, I saw her look over to Denis sometime before the 3rd attempt, there was this aura of 'here it comes' .. all of a sudden she was buzzing and just had that look about her that it was about to happen... and then it did, nice and relaxed, execution of a true pro', technique better than anyone in the filed in my opinion it sailed over the automatic qualifier with 63.97m and is one of her best throws ever. Part one ticked off, she's now in the final.
Jake and I were pumped for her and Denis. We didn't see Dani but when we saw Denis after the event he didn't show too much excitement as the job was only half done.
The next day is the final, the messages, the facebooks, the tweets, photos of kids with Dani signs, alarms set for 4.30am and a whole nation behind her was incredible. We see Denis at the same meeting point before the event, this time he says " I have never seen her so ready " ... this is big coming from him as he has seen her ready for many big performances on big occasions. Her first throw is similar to the first one in qualifying so nothing to worry about. From the stands my initial thoughts was she was staying very relaxed. The first throw was similar to the first throw the day before and something to build on, the 2nd throw wasn't her best so it was going to take a similar performance to the qualifying to put her in a position to challenge for a place. Some of the throwers had pulled out throws that were 4 metres further than gold at the last games, the standard had risen. Dani watched these standards rise and my thoughts were she would fight, she has a knack of responding on the big occasion and competes better than most people can dream of. Dani's best throws are relaxed, technical and fast. She tried to smash the last one like a true competitor that she is but missed the delivery and flight required to go a long way. It wasn't to be and seeing her face as she threw it I could shed a tear for her. In Dani's world 12th in a final is like 4th. It wouldn't matter, she aims high, anything but the highest she is disappointed. I was worried about how she would be but she handled it with class. She knows we will always love her no matter what and are always proud, this doesn't take away her disappointment but what I believe did was going in the stands and meeting up with her Nan, mum and sister. I went around to where they were and found Denis and her with this beautiful family who all had smiles on their faces, there was evidence of a tear or two but genuine happiness and unconditional love that athletes always have with families and their immediate support teams.
We then went and had a 'post event' drink, something I have had plenty of with elite sporting teams but never a girl who I've known since she was 8 after her biggest event of her life and is like family and my father who is family and Jake who is Allstars family. We had a great night, talked about what next? had a laugh and we now move on. One thing about Dani moving on is she does it always with her head held high because she and we know she works hard and makes enormous sacrifices, we do these 2 things and our heads are always high.
Dani is still only young, already has 2 Olympics under her belt and if she wants may still have a couple more. For me personally it will probably be the one and only time I experience teaming up with my own father for such an event. I have worked with some of the best coaches in the world on different tours of different sports who are some of my best mates but to have experienced the Olympics with my own father is priceless. It will probably be the last time I sit with Jake in the stands also, next time in Rio I am sure he will be out there with Dani on the same team. Who wants to come with me next time?