Michael Houston

Timing is everything.

It can work in your favour, or leave you pondering what alternate reality you could be living right now.

After two years of freelance purgatory, serving in bars and clubs, doing restaurant work - of which I was credited with "great service" from a review of a smokehouse I worked for, in a newspaper I wished I could be writing for, The Herald - and getting up before sunlight to pick other people's shopping in Tesco, I finally got my break.

I am often on the wrong end of an "it was between you and another candidate" discussion, which led to me wondering if the luck would ever go the other way.

I do not see it as luck to have been hired by insidethegames, I hadn't stumbled into the job blindly. I knew I had talent, but I had to be recognised, and I will always be grateful that that chance was taken on me here, when others had looked elsewhere in the past. So, the luck? It was the timing of said decision.

My first couple of months here were weird - I was surrounded by anti-doping and International Federations jargon, like a rabbit in the headlights. Often, it was a case of nodding as if you understood, before covertly taking to Google for more information. It was like attending a Mensa gathering.

While I caught up with the intensity of the job, we had already started writing about concerns of a type of coronavirus nine days before I first sat in the green-and-pink office. 

A month into my role, I headed to Switzerland to fulfil an outstanding contract obligation with the World Curling Federation at the World Wheelchair Championship. While in Wetzikon, competition only went ahead, ironically, due to the lack of spectators at the event being below the 200-person threshold.

The World Wheelchair Curling Championship was one of the last major sporting events to take place before the COVID-19 shutdown ©Getty Images
The World Wheelchair Curling Championship was one of the last major sporting events to take place before the COVID-19 shutdown ©Getty Images

By the time I came back, it was the second week of March - and days later, a message was sent for all employees to work from home for two weeks, giving me an opportunity to get back to Scotland after eight weeks away. I had started the day planning to see Onward in the cinema - 12 hours later, I was back at my mum's house, somewhere I'd end up staying for 16 months due to the surge of COVID-19.

My reintegration to Milton Keynes came weeks before the Paralympics - usually not the first trip for any reporter, but Tokyo 2020 was held when little else was. 

My Gran said she would pray that I'd be safe, it was still that much of a concern. Live events were always my bread and butter and despite the few hours of sleep and the the social restrictions in the world's biggest city, I had a blast. 

Six months later, I was donning the mask for 16 hours a day again, this time part of a quartet covering the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. As always, it was not as glamorous as it looks - it was a tough few weeks, but ultimately rewarding. 

People see the headlines - including the exclusive by insidethegames' editor Duncan Mackay about Kamila Valieva - but they do not see the endless weird robot food in the media canteen or the standard of snacks at venues. 

I will never forget the day the Valieva news started to kindle. I was coming back from a morning of dramatic action in the big air, I asked Geoff Berkeley while on the bus if we had a decent lead for the e-alert, going out at 2:30pm local time. He said "Pav has something half-decent, but not sure". 

Half an hour later, Michael Pavitt was so engrossed in his story, Geoff was acting as his spokesperson to explain this bubbling breaking news, which would lead to one of the sports stories of the year.

Kamila Valieva's Beijing 2022 Olympics will be remembered as one of the controversial moments at the Games in history ©Getty Images
Kamila Valieva's Beijing 2022 Olympics will be remembered as one of the controversial moments at the Games in history ©Getty Images

From there, we got a first-person account of the tragic free skating performance of the 15-year-old figure skater and the controversial fallout from the evening.

An underrated moment for me was days later, which came from initial disappointment leading to a twist that M. Night Shyamalan couldn't see coming. 

I had seemingly won the luck of the draw, taking a day to travel to Zhangjiakou and being back the next for the daily International Olympic Committee (IOC) press conference, where President Thomas Bach - who had strayed away from the media for over a week by this point - was due to take questions.

We were instead met with a young volunteer, one of many exhausting PR rollouts from the Beijing 2022 organisers. What looked like a waste of precious time, raised eyebrows. 

We rolled our eyes at a question about Uyghur Muslims, ready for the IOC and Beijing 2022 orchestrated, diplomatic responses and while Mark Adams played it safe for the IOC, Yan Jiarong from Beijing 2022 went on a tirade about the accusations. 

She continued to interject as Adams looked increasingly stressed at the situation, while a poor volunteer sat silent, with no questions about her hard work.

Yan Jiarong interjected opinions on Uyghur Muslims in China during a press conference ©IOC
Yan Jiarong interjected opinions on Uyghur Muslims in China during a press conference ©IOC

While I did not meet Mr Bach that day, I was given a last-second chance to ask him a question in a room full of city leaders at the smartcities & sport summit when the moderator asked if anyone had questions. 

While I stumbled through my question thought up on the spot, I'll never forget the look on the President's face as he realised insidethegames could even infiltrate safe spots like an event about sport planning in cities. While I was given a standard response, Bach staring a hole into my soul will never leave me. 

However, the best part of the job was meeting the people going through the grind with you on every trip. Karaoke in Kyrgyzstan having an in-depth Paolo Nutini back catalogue was like an eighth wonder of the world to me, while I learned the backstory of Russian pop songs from sambo staff members; as well as meeting a documentary team at the Women's World Boxing Championships while juggling the everyday drama of the boxing Presidential election debacle, one of the best examples of an organisation shooting itself in the foot. 

Lifelong friends were made at events such as the Boxing World Championships and the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, while I enjoyed a great working relationship with many teams including the Paris 2024 Olympics communications department - mostly because they bribed me with a chance to do a climbing wall in a three-piece suit and play wheelchair basketball, outscoring a former National Basketball Association player - the second humblebrag of this blog.

It's the little things - while meeting French football great Robert Pires was fantastic, eating pizza in our hotel room in Poland while watching The Simpsons with a colleague later that week after another hectic day of work was just as memorable.

While some think my job is jet-setting luxury, it can wear you down. An old housemate used to call me a Duracell bunny as I was never switched off between work, running, the remnants of a social life and hobbies; but even those batteries run out eventually. 

My time at insidethegames ends with no regrets, just contentment for what I have achieved and learned here and what I have contributed. 

A true collaborative experience and one that I'm thankful to have been a part of.

Giving voices to victims of sexual abuse was a humbling moment for me, while I was proud providing a platform for people uncovering corruption in their respective sports. 

Having seen some malicious articles on LGBTQ+ people - particularly at the moment, trans athletes - I would like to think my articles gave them a fair voice, balancing this complicated debate when sensationalism would have been the easy route. 

Meeting with the Pride House volunteers at Birmingham 2022 showed there is still so much more to do across the world, and our role of journalists is to give a voice to the voiceless and practise what we preach. 

Climbing walls are difficult in creepers (the shoes), even completed it in the famous tie ©ITG
Climbing walls are difficult in creepers (the shoes), even completed it in the famous tie ©ITG

I will miss the office, the team I work with - you know who you all are, the feature writing opportunities, welcoming the newbies, meeting virtual friends in person at events. 

I'll even miss the robots that I'm sure will continue to roam the streets of Milton Keynes in a post-apocalyptic world. What will I not miss? PR agencies spamming me with emails. 

What's next for me, time will tell. I'm not vanishing off the face of the earth. I'll be hanging around the sports journalism and communications industry in some form or another. My Twitter profile is at the bottom of this article, for anyone interested. 

As we say here at insidethegames when the story has not ended:

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