• Eighty-year-old there as his country's team leader
• "I have never walked into an arena with 80,000 people there"
GARY PLAYER | TIO 2016
Gary Player arrived at the Olympic Village in Rio this week “absolutely knackered” at 11pm after almost missing his flight and forgetting his bags – then found out he was sleeping in what looked like an “old army cot” bed.
Things got worse when he realised he had to wear what he described as a “1990s-style tracksuit” for the opening ceremony.
This, however, is a man who slept in the dunes at St Andrews just to compete in the Open. He’s faced bigger battles.
Truth is, whilst so many have turned their backs on the biggest sporting showcase in the world, Gary Player is having the time of his life.
According to his official Olympics diary, the legendary nine-time major winner left his beloved farm in South Africa to head to Brazil “packed with a sense of anticipation, pride and excitement”.
Player, who is a long-time and very vocal supporter of golf worldwide, is the first ever captain of South Africa’s men's and ladies' golf teams.
"I fell immediately into my bed that resembled an old army cot" - Gary Player
“After a smooth flight into Rio, my transport from the airport to the Olympic Village was very quick and efficient,” said Player. “We even drove past the Gavea Golf Course where I shot a 59 in the 1974 Brazilian Open and arrived at the Village around 11 pm. And being rather knackered I fell immediately into my bed that resembled an old army cot and fell sound asleep.”
Player said he is pleased to “see golf back where it belongs, in the Olympics – the greatest stage for sport - after an absence of more than 100 years”, and said he was “disappointed” with the withdrawal of some of his country’s players, though stopped short of naming Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel in print.
Read more -> Gary Player hits out at Olympic withdrawals
“There was not much I was able to do,” he added. “This just opened doors for other South Africans and I will be rooting for them all the way.”
Getting to Sao Paulo was not easy, however, as the South African said he was in such a rush, he left his suitcase behind. It had all his Olympic clothing inside.
"I know what it's like trying to feed six children and 22 grandchildren, never mind thousands of demanding athletes" - Gary Player
“Even after 63 years of nonstop travel, this can happen to anyone,” he said. “But thanks to my wonderful support team, they spotted my Black Knight luggage amongst all the other athletes’ bags and knew I must have forgotten them. After 17 years of working together, thanks again to Beatrix Geen! She re-booked with only a little bit of trouble and barely made her own flight.”
He added: “There are about 11,000 athletes in this Village, that are fed, housed, looked after, transported, have all the amenities they desire, and yet everything runs so smoothly. I know what it is like trying to feed six children and 22 grandchildren, never mind thousands of demanding athletes.
“In the time I was acclimatizing to Village life my wife, Vivienne, arrived at her hotel to support me as she has for the past 63 years on the road. It was fantastic seeing her after three weeks apart. We spent the day together checking out the city and a few venues. It was wonderful.”
Player described the Opening Ceremony as “spectacular” yet admitted he was “a little hesitant and confused” at having to wear the South African team tracksuit - you can see him wearing it above with South African golfer Brandon Stone - for the big occasion.
“Off we went, transported through a maze of people, buildings, traffic and roads to one of the most spectacular stadiums in the world. Entering the Maracanã stadium third out of more than 200 countries sent shivers down the whole South African team’s spines. I have not felt this proud being a South African for many years. The lights, the screaming fans and being surrounded by the world’s best athletes was truly special.
"The people of Rio gave all the teams such a warm and enthusiastic welcome" - Gary Player
Being a golfer, I have never walked into an arena with nearly 80,000 people. Chills. The people of Rio gave all the teams such a warm and enthusiastic welcome. The evening went like clockwork and at the end of a long night, I was reunited with my army bed at around 2am. What a night!”
And what a legend.
Gary Player's Olympic diary
Log-on to Gary Player's official website, garyplayer.com, to read his Rio 2016 diary