London Diary: Meeting a medalist on the Tube

The most fascinating 15 minutes I have ever experienced on the tube were with Qatari Olympic medalists.

London tube subway underground 390 (photo credit: Thinkstock)
London tube subway underground 390
(photo credit: Thinkstock)
There are some things that can only happen at the Olympics.
I’ve met Olympic medalists before, after all that is part of my job description, but never did I imagine that I’d bump into one in the Tube (subway for you Westerners), and from Qatar no less.
It was early Monday evening and I was making my way to the Guildhall for the official memorial ceremony to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics and the tragic murder of 11 Israelis.
Into the cramped and claustrophobic cabin I walk and find myself within touching distance of two men in official Qatar tracksuits with Olympic accreditations dangling from their necks.
I enter midway through a conversation between one of the Qatari’s, a healthy looking middle- aged man, and an English family of three, a young father and mother and a blond child around four years old.
The subsequent 15 minutes were the most fascinating I have ever experienced on the Tube.
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The talkative Qatari, with faultless English, did not just turn out to be an Olympic medalist, but he soon revealed that competing in the sporting world’s biggest stage is actually a side job for him.
Nasser al-Attiyah, aged 41, hailing from Doha in Qatar (learned that from Wikipedia), claimed a bronze medal last Tuesday in the Skeet (a shooting competition where contestants fire at flying clay disks with a shotgun) in what were his fifth Olympics.
Apparently, al-Attiyah and his colleague (who never uttered a word) were on their way to the Qatar House for a special presentation (you would have thought that being a wealthy Gulf state with just 12 athletes at London 2012, al- Attiyah and co. wouldn’t need to travel on the Tube).
Anyway, the friendly al-Attiyah, who put a smile on the blonde child’s face by gifting him a Qatar hat, explained that he only got into shooting to assist him with his real career as a rally driver.
That’s right, al-Attiyah wins Olympic medals during his summer vacation from racing specially modified cars up sand dunes and through rain forests.
And al-Attiyah is not just your average rally driver (if such a thing exists).
Al-Attiyah won the prestigious Dakar Rally in 2011, a year after finishing in second.
He said that he took up shooting to help improve his concentration skills for his rally career and ended up being so good that he became one of the world’s best at skeet.
At this stage, it was time for me to alight (who knows what other captivating stories I would have been exposed to had I been able to stick around for a few more minutes).
Every Olympian has a story to tell, but al-Attiyah’s was far more captivating than most.
I have been on the lookout for roaming Olympians in every Tube ride since, sadly I have yet to encounter another.
But hey, there are still three more days until the closing ceremony and clearly anything can happen at the Olympics, after all I have already stumbled upon a rally driver from Qatar who had just happened to medal in shooting days earlier.