AS WE continue our countdown to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which are now 37 weeks away, sports reporter RUSSELL CLAYDON meets a woman who has been there twice before but can’t wait to relive it all.
AS 80,000 people take their seats inside the Olympic Stadium in Stratford on July 27 and the world watches on, Susan Webber knows our athletes are about to experience something like nothing else.
The former South African hockey player, and recently appointed deputy head of Framlingham College, will no doubt have flashes of her own magical Olympic awakening in Sydney in 2000 playing through her mind as she stands in east London for the opening ceremony to commence.
But despite having captained her country four years later in the sporting extravaganza’s spiritual home in Athens, her stand-out memory of the Games had already been and gone.
“It is definitely the opening ceremony from Sydney,” said Webber, who amassed 153 caps for her country playing as a sweeper. “Just before you go in to parade, as each of the countries is called out you get funnelled through a tunnel in the main stadium and just as we were going in they suddenly started singing ‘Shohola’ which is a motivational song we have in South Africa.
“The whole team started singing it just as we were about to go out and it was an absolutely spine-tingling moment. Then we went out into the stadium and there was about 80,000 people and as I sit in this chair today I can see the stadium and get a real sense of what it felt like - the opening ceremony is phenomenal.”
In July, the Bloemfentein-raised 33-year-old will be at her third Games, but this time as an Olympian host, passing on her experiences to corporate clients who she will accompany to a whole range of events. But the hockey at London 2012, with its eye-catching yellow ball on a blue surface with pink trim around the pitch - the event Webber twice finished ninth out of 12 countries in - is likely to be a must under her guidance, with the so-caled ‘smurf turf’ having her full backing.
“I wanted to get involved somehow,” she Webber, who has tipped the GB Womens hockey team for a podium place. “It is sharing Olympic experiences again, I do it on a daily basis with the kids (at Framlingham), but to do it with other individuals is quite exciting actually.”
Webber, who also lays claim to shaking the hand of Nelson Mandela while in Sydney, is young enough to still be playing but opted to take up a teaching role following Athens in 2004 at the King’s School in Canterbury. It came out of the blue after she initially came to England a year previously to play for Canterbury in the highly-regarded Premier League.
So does she regret not still being out on the pitch now 2012 is fast approaching on her doorstep, after giving up playing the game completely to concentrate on her teaching career?
“I think there is always a little part of me that thinks ‘jeez I would love to be representing my country now’,” she said. “Once you have done it it is something that stays with you and is very special but I genuinely feel I have achieved everything I wanted to achieve from a hockey perspective.
“The challenges that my new career present are really what excite me now, as a deputy head in a new school.”
Now coaching the girls first team at Framlingham College, where she began her new role in September, Webber still has plenty of opportunities to recount her Olympic stories on the newly opened astro-turf at the school, such as her first match, in front of 25,000 spectators against Germany in Sydney, or beating the same nation, and eventual gold medallists, 3-1 in a pool game in Athens. But she now hopes to give her students the opportunites to go on and forge their own special sporting memories.