Interview with BJ Cole: “Watching Olympic dreams be made and broken is intense”
The Roar was given the opportunity to interview Australian 400m hurdler, Brendan ‘BJ’ Cole, and discuss his Olympic experience and the atmosphere within the Australian team.
Cole, 31, has been a member of the Australian senior team since 2006, but London is his first Olympics.
He started running at Little Athletics in Melbourne, but now lives in Canberra and trains at the AIS, coached by Matt Beckenham.
Off the track, Cole works as a massage therapist at the AIS, and can be found DJing around Canberra nightclubs.
Here, he shares some insight into how he prepares mentally and physically to get the best out of himself at major competitions, what it’s like rooming with Steve Hooker and Mitch Watt, and how the pressure of expectation affects the performance of the team.
[Tim] Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, BJ. This is your first Olympics. How does it compare to your previous major international runs at the World Championships in Berlin, and the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and Melbourne?
[BJ] Running the final in Melbourne with 83, 000 people screaming for you will be one of the most special experiences of my life; that MCG atmosphere was life changing. Berlin was a fantastic learning experience for me, and a great competition where the ‘festival’ vibe from a Comm Games or Olympics is taken out of the equation and it’s all business.
But really, I think all those were just crescendos and steps to the big O. It’s hard to properly put this London experience in perspective because I am still here and living it. Watching Olympic dreams be made and broken is intense, and I think looking back to these games in the coming months and years will best shape my view.
[Tim] There’s been quite a lot of criticism of Australia’s Olympic team for failing to perform under pressure at these Games. You’ve managed to produce your best performances here, running a PB in your heat and running fast again in the semi. How do you manage your preparation to get into the best mental and physical state to run fast under pressure? Does maturity and life experience give you an advantage?
[BJ] My approach to athletics has worked for me. It’s not for everyone, but it fits in with my body and my head really well. Having said that, I have spent many, many post-race moments wondering what on earth I am doing and why I am not running fast.
My coach and I work with almost an artistic philosophy, where we ‘feel’ our way through training and through competitions. The down-side to this is that I don’t always run as fast as I feel I can when the environment is not as stimulating (as the Olympics!) and I do tend to go up and down with performances.
The upside is that I usually step up and perform well when it counts and run my best times in big competitions.
[Tim] What’s the atmosphere like in the Australian team? Who are the biggest characters in the squad? Has the perceived failure of the swimming team added pressure to the athletics team, in a positive or negative way? How does the team manage the pressure of expectation?
[BJ] The team here has been fantastic! It’s just amazing to have the support from everyone when you are out there competing and when you get back to the village.
I suppose it’s in the back of our minds that the team hasn’t won as many gold medals as ‘expected’, but I am not sure how that is ‘supposed’ to affect the athletes that are still to compete. Everyone is out there performing for themselves and their country, what the swimmers did or didn’t do last week is not going to change that.
There is a feeling of pride that resonates through the team and is not correlated to the medal tally.
[Tim] You prepared for the Games in Germany with Steve Hooker and Mitch Watt. What was it like hanging out with two big stars, and what did you take away from seeing how they prepare?
[BJ] Steve and Mitch are awesome. Steve is one of my best and oldest friends, and Mitch is just a legend. They are great examples of the diversity in athletes at the highest level. Steve’s approach to PV is measured, calculated, very specific and completely aware of all that goes into each jump and session.
Mitch, being the super talented athlete he is, has a more passive awareness, but an intuition to long jump that has spectacular results. Bottom line, though is that they both are hilarious and great fun to be around.
It’s nice to see top level athletes with charismatic personalities!
[Tim] Your profile in the media has certainly risen since you made the Olympic team and you’ve been one of the real good news stories of the games so far, certainly for those who follow athletics. Australia has been a bit desperate for good news. Do you enjoy the extra attention and does it add to your motivation?
[BJ] I don’t mind it at all. I used to be a little camera and media shy, thinking it was superficial of me to enjoy it. Since then I have realised the power of the media (for good and for bad), and how important it is for our sport and its public knowledge and awareness.
If I can instill anything good into that public perception then that’s a job well done. I also realise the fickle nature of interest in sport so I am enjoying my 15 minutes of fame as much as possible!! I’d like to think of myself as fairly honest and positive, but realistic. People seem to respond well to this, but I also just like talking crap.
[Tim] You have lots of interests outside athletics. How do you balance your other interests with the dedication required to succeed as an elite athlete, and do you feel that it’s important to have interests outside the sport?
[BJ] Sport and other life interests are always a swinging pendulum in my life. Lots of trial and error and working out the things that negatively affect my athletics has been a long, but very fun road. I generally know when to switch on hard-working BJ, or lets-have-fun BJ, but it has not always been an easy thing to do.
I suffer from FOMO disease (Fear Of Missing Out), which can get me into trouble sometimes! Having a really fruitful life outside aths is the single biggest reason why I have staying in the sport as long as I have. Nothing ever seems that hard when you are passionate but having fun, too.
I am not making any big decisions [on retirement] yet. The plan to retire was a good attitude to have going into this year, where I truly believed this may be my last ever competition. That meant I had put completely everything into the preparation for this year and I think it’s helped with a PB and a great games (so far).
I generally do things that I am passionate about and that make me happy. Athletics still ticks those boxes, so for as long as I can say that I will call myself an athlete. I do, however, have a sweet holiday planned post-games!
[Tim] Thanks again, BJ.
Tim Renowden has been following professional cycling closely since Indurain won his first Tour. A former A-grade club athlete, and now a keen recreational cyclist and roller racer, he once rode very slowly up Mont Ventoux. Tim tweets about sport at @timehhh_sp.