In this episode, we hear the story of Garry Cook: a former Olympic athlete who won a silver medal in the 1984 Olympic Games relay race. He is the husband of Kathy Smallwood-Cook, a former guest of the podcast who also achieved Olympic glory.
Just like Kathy, Garry attributes much of his success to the people who supported him as he was growing up. Speaking about his Junior Coach, he says “90% of my success was down to him”. In fact, Garry felt so comfortable with his Junior Coach that, despite the fact his performances merited a position with one of the Senior Coaches, he decided to continue training with the person who had helped him achieve such promising performances in the first place. Garry talks about how he valued his coach so much because he wasn’t a screamer or a shouter, and he was subtle in both his criticism and praise: “he was a very modest, very humble coach”, someone who clearly suited Garry’s own personality.
Another person who played a significant role in Garry’s success was his father. He would pick him up from school and drive him to the other side of the city so that he would be able to participate in the Athletics Club. He would do this twice a week and also on a Sunday. Had he not shown such support for his son, it is unlikely that Garry would have been able to achieve what he did. Garry would only become aware of the full extent of his father’s devotion to his racing when his father had passed away. He found a large collection of videos in his father’s house and it turned out that his father had filmed all of his son’s athletics races at both club and international level. The footage still exists for Garry’s own children to appreciate.
Talking about his experiences of competing at international tournaments, Garry reveals that he has regrets about trying to balance his training for the 1980 Olympic Games with working as a teacher: “I messed up on the Olympic trials, so I missed out.” He did, however, qualify for the Commonwealth Games and was expected to go all the way but a trip during the semi-finals in Brisbane prevented him from being able to medal.
Nevertheless, Garry’s moment of triumph would not elude him. It was at the 1984 Olympic Games that he would participate in the relay race alongside Kriss Akabusi, Todd Bennett and Philip Brown. There had been no expectation that Team GB would win a medal in this race and yet Garry still felt the pressure: “No matter how prepared you are, you take your track-suit off to run and you feel as if you can’t even run for 10 metres, never mind the full 400.” But, on this occasion, Garry and his team would be successful as they won the silver medal in LA: “we were overjoyed because it wasn’t expected.” Speaking about the Olympics more generally, Garry says: “you can get people who come from nowhere and on the day they win medals. I think that’s what makes the sport so interesting.”