Some years ago, my reward for taking my younger daughter to swimming lessons was that they coincided with a competitive swim squad’s training in another part of the pool. While remembering to make the occasional reassuring nod to my daughter whenever she floated to the surface, I would watch the squad. In particular, there was a teenager who cut through the water with seemingly effortless grace. I loved watching her swim. Finally, I asked the coach who she was. “Ah,” he said, “that’s Samantha Lucie-Smith. She’ll go places.” The next time I see Lucie-Smith, now 20, will be on TV at the Olympics where she is in the women’s 4x200m freestyle relay. Watching her training, I saw just a micron of the effort and dedication that a single athlete makes to try to reach the Olympics.
So many of them have devoted their youth to achieving this single goal, training for thousands of hours for an opportunity to stand on the blocks or at the starter’s line in a heat, and possibly be eliminated after a single race lasting less than three minutes. Is this heroism or madness? Is it worth it? Shouldn’t responsible parents introduce their athletic children to drugs or gambling to break their sports obsession? I can’t help feeling the real winners of the Olympics are not the medallists but the spectators. We, whose only sacrifice for the Olympics is possibly missing whatever is on the other channels, owe a great debt to the athletes. The Olympics are costly in more than just financial terms.
- After more years than I care to count of writing a weekly column for the Evening Post, the Dominion Post and then the Listener, this is my last. I have decided to go before one of my kids hires a lawyer or, worse, becomes one. I leave with some real regrets. I’ve always been conscious that it is a great privilege to have a personal voice in the media. Also, although the decline of the mainstream media is worrying and disappointing, the industry is still hugely influential and important and therefore not easy to walk away from. But the tightening financial screws are making quality journalism harder, and after 30 years, it feels like time to go. This is not an Oscar speech, but I would like to thank readers. It has been a pleasure to try to serve you, even those who told me The Black Page was the perfect length to read in a supermarket queue before returning the magazine to the rack on reaching the checkout. Thanks also to my editor and colleagues, who have not only saved me from myself over the years, but also made the Listener such a good place to work. Finally, thank you to my children, Seb, Tamsin and Poppy, for whom having a mother as a columnist has been like living next door to an unstable dog. They never knew when it was going to rush out and terrify them. Their forbearance, good humour and understanding that their demands for payment would always go unmet have been appreciated.
- I’m leaving to become a press secretary for Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bill English. I spent many years in the parliamentary Press Gallery, and the opportunity to see politics from the inside has always been tempting – doing it from the vantage point of a high-functioning office and such an important portfolio as finance even more so. To me, the economic turmoil in much of the developed world only makes politics a more fascinating area in which to work. Of course, I’ve worried I don’t know enough about the portfolio, but when my family was in Ohakune recently, and I was thinking about my new job, we passed a restaurant with a big sign saying “OCR”. Turns out it stands for Old Coach Rd, which is a local attraction, but my first thought was Official Cash Rate. My second thought was, “It’s going to be okay after all.”