South African athlete Thando Roto says he doesn't mind having to share a room while competing around the world as he gets to meet people from all walks of life. Photo: Reg Caldecott
Life on the road as an athlete is not quite as glamorous as it may seem as they battle language barriers and delayed flights.

A hierarchy based on their status on the global stage often dictates the allocation of single rooms but the norm is for athletes to room with other random people.

At the Paris Diamond League meeting South African sprinter Thando Roto woke up with a "stranger" in the bed next to him covered from head to toe with blankets.

Roto discovered at the dining hall that the stranger was none other than compatriot Akani Simbine, who got back late from an outing at Disneyland courtesy of Swiss watch sponsor Richard Mille. “It depends on the meet. At some, you get a single room and at others you share and you don’t really get a preference,” Simbine said.

“Sometimes you just share with anyone and I think that helps to get to know more people from around the world and you get to learn about different cultures.

“It is nice to a point and if you are not good at socialising it is going to be awkward in the room.”

Roto is one of those athletes that embrace the experience and has no preference of who he wants to room with while on tour.

“With the rooming, I am not too fussy; it is part of the experience for me to meet new people,” Roto said.

“The one day I share a room with a guy from Kenya the next it is someone from Jamaica and all over the world.

“That is part of being on the circuit travelling and I don’t really have preferences and I’ve never had an experience where I've walked away thinking I'll never room with that guy again.”

Earning stamps in their passports may seem like the athletes are living the high life but they hardly have time to do sightseeing when they travel. Caster Semenya revealed she had not been to the Eiffel Tower on her previous visit to the French capital but made a point this time of visiting the Parisian icon.

“People may have this perception that we are kings and queens travelling around Europe but most of the time you are in a city three days max,” Roto explained.

“The day before you have to focus on your race, then you race and the next morning you are out.”

Simbine says he rarely gets the chance to take in the sights at the global cities he gets to visit.

“You literally board a plane and go to the next hotel,then from the hotel you go to the track and from there you go back to the hotel and off to the airport. Then I go back to my base to train and the cycle continues.

“I was lucky enough to get here and with my sponsors Richard Mille we did a shoot with them and afterwards we went to Disneyland.”

The travelling itself can sometimes be a nightmare where athletes have to take red-eye trips or have to hang around airports due to delays or catching connecting flights. Simbine had to pull an all-nighter as he had to catch a 4am shuttle the morning after his race in Paris.

The meets generally finish late in the evenings and athletes often have to be out of the hotel at the crack of dawn. Then there is the odd mishap such as lost travel tickets or missed flights. In Paris, Semenya’s coach Samuel Sepeng misplaced the train tickets to Lausanne. Sepeng stayed up all night in the foyer of the hotel waiting for Semenya’s agent who had the bookings on his laptop.

They may produce extraordinary feats on the track and in the field but athletes are human after all.

* De Villiers attended the Paris and Lausanne Diamond League meetings courtesy of the IAAF


Sunday Independent

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