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Nino Severino: Becoming an Olympian is the ultimate honour

PUBLISHED: 10:55 21 February 2018 | UPDATED: 10:55 21 February 2018

L-R: Nino Severino, Judy Murray and Elena Baltacha at the London 2012 Olympics. Picture: NINO SEVERINO

L-R: Nino Severino, Judy Murray and Elena Baltacha at the London 2012 Olympics. Picture: NINO SEVERINO


In his latest column, Nino Severino shares his memories of being an Olympic coach as Team GB compete for medals at the Winter Games out in South Korea.

Elena Baltacha and mum Olga at the London 2012 Olympic Games - Elena wanted to be an Olympian as much for her mum as herself. Picture: NINO SEVERINO Elena Baltacha and mum Olga at the London 2012 Olympic Games - Elena wanted to be an Olympian as much for her mum as herself. Picture: NINO SEVERINO

It’s been absolutely fantastic watching the Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang – it’s evoked some very strong memories of my experiences as a coach at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

The total experience for both athlete and coach are simply outstanding, and for most it is the pinnacle of their careers.

Athletes want to be known as Olympians, and for a coach, to be part of the Great Britain Olympic coaching team, is one of the greatest honours.

If you are not involved in sport it might be a surprise to realise that, for most committed athletes and coaches, the start of the preparation for the Olympic Games begins once the last one has finished - in terms of planning it literally is a four-year cycle.

For some it maybe their first Olympics, but for many it will be another opportunity to either win a medal that eluded them at the last one, better a bronze or silver placing, or retain the ultimate, an Olympic gold medal, and the title of Olympic champion.

I can recall when it was Elena’s time to find out if she had been selected for the Great Britain Olympic team – I can remember it like it was yesterday.

Elena was preparing for her match on court 17 at Wimbledon, we were down in the preparation area, waiting with the other players who were set to be taken onto court by their security and Wimbledon representatives.

Elena, as always was calm, but I knew that in the back of her mind the Olympic team selections were in there, and after our final words and a hug, she was off.

I attended many Wimbledons, and this part of the tournament always reminded me of Gladiators being led out into the arena for battle – the two players would go out separately and there was a very distinctive feel and aura about the whole process, a feeling that you were truly part of something very special. As Elena went one way, I went the other to find my seat.

Elena was playing an Italian, and I remember Judy Murray was sitting next to me, Leon Smith, captain of the world-beating Great Britain Davis Cup team was also sitting with us, as were most of the British Tennis Coaching support staff.

With the Olympic selection on Elena’s mind, I really do not know how she competed at the level she did on that day, she had a fantastic match, she won, and, as she was waving to the crowd, I noticed that Judy had disappeared.

Strangely, she was standing behind Elena’s seat – this was very unusual, not the norm, and I had a feeling something was happening.

Judy beckoned Elena over to her, the next thing I saw was them leaning over the barriers, both embracing, both crying with emotion.

Judy, as the Great Britain Olympic tennis team captain, had a call from the selection team during the match and had been told that Elena was going to become an Olympian.

This was the start of a fantastic period of our lives together, becoming an Olympian meant so much to her, and there was a very special reason for this.

Both her dad and mum were selected to compete for the USSR Olympic team, Sergei as a member of the football team, Olga as a pentathlete. Unfortunately, in those days, if you had children, the USSR governing body would not supply carers for the children, this meant that either Sergei or Olga would not be able to compete.

So Olga stayed back to look after Sergei Jnr and Elena, while Sergei Snr went to compete.

As you can imagine, this was heart-breaking for Olga – and Elena wanted to achieve what was not possible through circumstance for her mother, so becoming an Olympian for Elena was more than personal, it was also for her mother Olga. All very, very emotional.

It was a very proud time at the London 2012 Olympics for both of us, and I could fill this whole newspaper with the experiences both Elena and I were privileged to have!

All the athletes at the Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, whether they win a medal or not, will have the honour of being called an Olympian for the rest of their lives.

No-one can ever take this away from them, and for most, that is the ultimate honour.

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