Olympic Desire

Photo: Luke Bezzina
What a summer it was for Luke Bezzina.  Having run 100m in 10.68 at the National Championships last June, his season had apparently come to a close on a high note.  That was the fastest he had ever run the distance and, even though he did not come out as the winner, there had been real intensity in the race.  Having achieved his ambition for the year he got ready for a period of rest after a hard season.

Those plans were put to the side when an e-mail arrived informing him that, given Kevin Moore’s pending doping case, he had been chosen to represent Malta at the summer Olympics.

“It was a surprise; a pleasant one!” he recalls.  “I had to restart training at a quick pace in order to get to Rio in the best shape possible.”

Unfortunately that wasn’t enough and a run of 11.04 wasn’t enough to see him advance into the first round proper.  Even so, Bezzina returned to Malta something of a changed man.

“The whole experience was a revelation,” he says, searching for words to adequately describe his period in Brazil.

“I got to see how the world’s finest athletes prepare and that blew my mind.  I got to meet the likes of Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell, as well as have a chat with Maurice Greene who is an athlete that I enjoyed seeing run.”

Photo: Wally Galea
If the impression is that Bezzina was star struck, think again.  “I realised that these are people like me who dedicate their life to athletics.  Everything they do is centred around athletics and everything is designed to ensure that they perform at the best.  I wouldn’t say that I wasn’t determined – because I was – but all this has given me an added impetus.”

This realisation has forced him to re-evaluate his own training regime.  “At the moment I train two hours at six in the morning, go to work for eight hours and then train for another two hours.  It is far from ideal if you want to improve and reach certain levels.  You need to focus on training to do that.”

Bezzina’s sporting career started at an early age.  “When I was some three years old they used to send to a number of sports because I was extremely energetic at home.  I liked running because I was rather good at it and stuck at it.”

“I enjoy team sports.  During my off-season I play a bit of football or basketball and I really enjoy myself.  In athletics we don’t have that camaraderie.  There’s only the relay races which I enjoy but they don’t really generate the same level of camaraderie.”

“What I love about athletics is that there’s no one to contradict me and I can put into action what I have planned.  If there’s gain to be had by a decision then I gain and if there’s loss then again I’m the one to suffer it.  There isn’t the pressure of not wanting to disappoint anyone else.”

Sprints were always what he was most interested in.  “They were what I really enjoyed doing.  I did try a 5km run but I immediately realised that they weren’t for me.  I enjoyed sprinting too much.  You push yourself and give everything you’ve got in that brief slot of time.  You go to the limit, get tired and then you can rest before going again.”

“So it was athletics and sprints for me.  Tyson Gay once said something that I really like; that he lives more in those 10 seconds than some people do in their lifetime.  The adrenaline rush is insane.  It makes me hungry to feel it every time.”

“I started taking it seriously in 2010 when I was around fifteen.  I started training every day.  And this year I ‘m planning on taking it even more seriously.”

Which is exactly what he’s done.  Towards the end of last year he went to England to spend three months during which he put his life on hold to attend the Loughborough University with athletics as the main objective.

“Loughborough offers the best sports facilities in the UK.  There I will have everything I need in order to properly train for athletics.  At the Olympics I made a number of contacts which is how this came about.  I could train with Martyn Rooney and even though he competes in the 400m, for sure there is a lot to learn from a man who has an Olympic bronze medal and was the European champion.”

”I want to give it a real go to see how much I can improve if my preparation is similar to that of professional athletes.”

All of this is partly down to the few days that he spent in Brazil last summer.  “Thank God I went,” he says of the Olympics “because it opened my mind.  It has changed how I see myself within the sport.  That is why I went to the UK actually.  Most probably I wouldn’t have made this move if I hadn’t gone to the Olympics.”

“The fact that I’ve left my family, my girlfriend, work, school to go abroad for three months is all down to what I experienced in Brazil.  I think that this is a move that will take me to the next level.  I thank anyone who managed to make it work.”

“It was a real life changing experience for me.”

Photo by Wally Galea
Given all that, it is hardly surprising that Bezzina reacts angrily when the argument of Malta’s participation in the Olympics, and whether that should continue given the limited results, comes up.  “That’s the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard!  It really gets me angry when I hear people making that argument.  To me the Olympics meant the inspiration to push on.”

What those who make such arguments often forget is the difficulties that Maltese athletes often face.  Bezzina’s own experience is typical.

“Since we are not full time athletes, we do our best.  I still have to work and study.”

“Usually I come at the Marsa track at half past six in the morning and then do another session in the evening at six in the evening.  In between I go to work and to lectures.  It is a very hectic life and sometimes you lose focus on why you’re doing it.  There are times when you start asking yourself what you’re doing out there in the rain at half six in the morning.  But then when you go to competitions you have your answer, you understand why that sacrifice was all about.”

“To be on the highest level you have to take it professionally.  You cannot spend eight hours and then come to train from six to eight.  You cannot.”

“You have to take a massage a day.  That costs €30.  I don’t have that kind of money.  Professional athletes have the time to rest whereas we sleep for seven hours and then wake up to train before going to work.”

“I have to think about the future.  I will try to do my utmost but at the end of the day I cannot focus exclusively on running only to then end up without a profession.  You come across a dilemma of what to do next.  It is hard.  But not unachievable.”

Again all that boils down to his experience in Brazil.  “The fact that I’ve been to the Olympics means that I’ve seen how much I have to improve.  In my race, in my diets, in my gym.  There is still a lot that I can do to run faster.”

“I’m not here wasting my time, I want to actually do some good times.  We still have a lot to do in the run.  I do have a very good start but it is not the best and I want to keep on improving on that.  Then there’s the finish of the 100m and the 200m.  We have to improve on that.  We have to work on my diet, on my body weight on the techniques in the gym.  We have a lot of stuff to improve.  It keeps me motivated.”

The strength of that belief and desire to improve is what led to Bezzina’s trip to England.  “For me this will help because I have more time to train and rest.  I have cut out work. In between I will have some time for studying but my main focus is training and getting a really intensive pre-season training.”

All this will provide an ideal base and the extent of Bezzina’s ambition is typified by the determination not to make the Games of the Small States of Europe the extent of his ambitions.

Indeed, his ultimate target is far grander.  “I’ve learned from this summer’s experience.  I won’t be caught wanting ever again and next time I will keep on training so that if an opportunity comes along I will be ready.”

“I’m determined that I will be at the next Olympics.  And my aim is to really make a mark.”

If you enjoyed this article, why not check out our story on Henrietta Chevalier, the forgotten Maltese heroine of World War II.


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