Often, it’s not the winning that reveals character, but the way someone recovers from setbacks. Rob Cole salutes former world champion Non Stanford – on the comeback trail after the Commonwealth Games.
It was the great Aussie rugby coach Alan Jones who coined the immortal phrase to sum up the slings and arrows of often outrageous sporting fortune: “One minute you’re a rooster, the next a feather duster.”
How often have we seen the mighty fall from grace to underline the beautiful unpredictability of sport?
But when the once mighty find a second wind and rekindle former glories, the story is sometimes all the sweeter.
One example of that was provided by Non Stanford last weekend in Yokohama, where the former ITU World Triathlon champion returned to the podium for the first time in two years with a magnificent, and totally unexpected, bronze medal. The rooster’s plumage returned!
Now we all know in these parts just what a class act Non is on and off the track or bike. She has always carried herself with such grace and dignity and following her third place finish in Japan she was at it again.
Remember when she finished an agonising fourth at the Rio Olympics, out-kicked by three seconds at the death by her own bloody housemate! Were there a few harsh words between the two? Not a bit of it. This was Non’s response to that episode with Vicky Holland two years ago:
“I’m absolutely delighted that Vicky got the medal. We came here as a team to get a medal and we’ve walked away with one. I gave it everything and I don’t think I could ask much more of myself.
“Maybe I didn’t play it tactically right. Fourth is probably the worst place to come but it’s still fourth at the Olympics. We have one medal in the house now, so we can put it on display.”
If the medal snatching Holland felt bad for a few micro-seconds at ousting her bestie from the podium, Non wasn’t harbouring any grudges.
She put it behind and is now obviously using that disappointment to carry her through to another shot in Tokyo in 2020.
Fast forward from 2016 to 2018 and the plans weren’t going according to the required script. There was that disappointing eighth place for the Team Wales captain at the Commonwealth Games and prior to her race in Yokohama she found herself flicking through the small pages of the job adverts.
There was a part of her that felt the end was nigh! Thankfully, she is better than that, much better. Her stunning, gritty showing in Japan last weekend is proof, if any was needed, that she still has much more to give.
No spring chicken these days as she counts down to her 30th birthday in January, she nevertheless has the benefit of experience to fall back on when the going gets tough. And that’s exactly what she did in Yokohama.
It wasn’t the perfect race by any means, but she dug deep, found something extra and came home behind the Commonwealth champion Flora Duffy and the American Katie Zaferes. The smile on her face said it all, as did the post-race congratulations from all her peers.
She was welcomed back to the podium by the untouchable Duffy and it said all that needed to be said that the former world champion and Olympic gold medallist Gwen Jorgensen took the time to tweet her congratulations.
But it was the way she didn’t let the euphoria of winning a medal overtake her in the post-race interviews that really showed her real character. No rubbish about that race ‘always being inside me’ or ‘it just proves what I can do’. They was no hiding from the truth ssshe told it straight.
“It has been a really tough two years, I have gone through a lot of up and downs. In all honestly I spent last night Googling job applications and I was reading this morning (race day) what I have to do for this particular job, I just didn’t expect that today,” she told some amazed reporters.
“This sport can be super cruel and super tough, but it has just taught me that if you stay patient and just keep plugging away you can get back up there, really.”
Those home truths led one hard-bitten football commentator, presenter and betting expert to tweet the following in appreciation of Non’s frankness:
@Trevorbets : I have spent most of my professional career interviewing footballers – they don’t give you a lot. Today was different. When a former world champion @nonstanford tells you she doubted her own ability us mere mortals get a little hope. Back where she belongs on the podium.
The cheerleading also continued from her Australian Olympic triathlete boyfriend, Aaron Royle –
@ARoyle90 : After the toughest 18 months in her career, I’m proud that she was able to persevere, even when I’m sure she thought she couldn’t. Not going to say she’s back yet, because there’s still a lot left in her, but sometimes it’s the small victories that mean the most. Onwards, always!
Now she has so much to look forward to. The job applications can wait a while, probably quite a long while, as she puts her head down and pushes forward to Tokyo. That medal still beckons and, if she can win it, the world of sport will rejoice with her.
Forthcoming ITU World Triathlon Series Dates
7 Jun: ITU World Triathlon Mixed Relay Series, Nottingham
10 Jun: ITU World Triathlon, Leeds
14 Jul: ITU World Triathlon, Hamburg
27-29: Jul ITU World Triathlon Mixed Relay Series, Edmonton
27-29: Jul ITU World Triathlon, Edmonton
25-26: Aug ITU World Triathlon, Montreal
12-16: Sep ITU World Triathlon Grand Final, Gold Coast