Sometimes opportunities come up and you cannot believe your own luck. As an Ambassador for Samsung, I was invited by them to attend the UK delegation heading to South Korea as part of the Olympic Torch Relay for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang. Our itinerary looked jam packed; fly to Tokyo, then on to Busan in the southern part of South Korea. It would take over 15 hours to get there and jump us forward by 9 hours ahead of GMT. We were due to stay for two days then return home. It seemed a mammoth journey, but it was absolutely worth every bit of jet lag and the hours of travel.
We arrived on Friday evening in Busan, a mass of Samsung volunteers and employees greeted us at the airport. The cameras were ready and we soon forgot our fatigue as we were whisked off to our hotel on the beautiful Pacific coastline of the East Sea. I was very excited to visit a very different part of the world and one which I am not familiar with, but upon arrival I was struck by the generosity, smiles and sense of humour from the staff we met there. The first day involved visiting a beautiful and peaceful Buddhist temple, the Beomeosa Temple, set in the idyllic autumnal, leafy hills that surround Busan. We were shown how to brew a traditional Korean green tea for guests. It takes a lot of care and attention that requires at least ten minutes' preparation compared to our standard and quick builders tea! We then swiftly moved from our lunch to the Gukje Market which gave us a fascinating insight into traditional Korean culture. We could observe how ladies cook kimchi and the variety of seafood on offer (including entire dried squid and other interesting delicacies). After a cable car trip spanning the stunning coastline of Busan, we headed to a traditional Korean BBQ dinner. During the whole day we wanted for nothing and were given amazing insight into Korean history and tradition by our energetic and witty guide, Genie.
The following day, my fellow athletes (Ellie Simmonds and Amy Williams) and I got up at the crack of dawn to travel to a secret organising committee venue to get kitted out for our turn as torch bearers on the historic Olympic torch's journey to the heart of the Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang next year. I must admit we all felt nervous and once we had done various kit swaps, we waited patiently to be called up for our turn to walk or run the 200m slot we were allocated. I chose to walk my 200m and tried to take in the magic of that moment. It is an indescribable feeling, having been to two Games and won medals, to be a tiny part of a journey that will lead athletes to the podium next year in PyeongChang. In fact, there were two Winter Games hopefuls with us; Rowan Cheshire and Jamie Nicholls. I talked to them about their preparations and feelings ahead of next year and it made me reminisce about the pure wonder and magic of competing for your country on such a global stage. Nothing can ever replace the feeling of competing, winning and then standing singing your national anthem with a Gold medal around your neck. That realisation that you did it and that every tough moment you went through, every failure, every set back was all part of the plan and process. I still get goose bumps even a year later and hope it never stops. I carried my Gold medal in my pocket as I walked with the torch, it has travelled around the world with me this past year and still accompanies my various trips!
All I can say to those competing at the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in PyeongChang in 2018 is please, please relax and enjoy every minute. You have done the work by now, you are ready, be confident and remember to take in every part of it. We will all be cheering and watching you from home! Especially to Rowan and Jamie - I am so glad I know some athletes and I will be screaming for you!
Finally, I want to thank the team at M&C Saatchi and to Samsung for being a great sponsor. I am proud to support you as an Ambassador and so grateful for all the support and friendship that you have given me since filming "School of Rio" last year until now! Thanks to all the South Korean Samsung staff who were so attentive and to all my fellow torch bearers I met over the last few whirlwind days.