This is the seventh time I’ve lived the reality of trying to qualify for an Olympics. The in-between Games I’ve not been part of were spent either glued to the internet (we don’t have television in either of our home bases) or working for CBC at the Games. Yes, I am a unabashed Olympic junkie and can’t get enough of sport when it comes time every two years for the build to and then finally, the Olympics themselves.
The reality of living the stress of selection, competition, preparation and all that striving for something so big entails is not simple. It is never straight forward and never, at least for me, a matter of ticking the boxes as I rampage through goals and targets.
The whole idea of preparation always seems like it should be so simple. When I look at what I want to do and how I am going to do it, it is simple. Problem is with this is that it’s also competition. And competition is full of competitors who show no mercy. Including myself. The battle is always to stay in line with those goals and targets and not get caught up in what other people are doing. Not just other Canadian athletes, but athletes around the world.
The first time I tried to make an Olympics was way back in 1992. It was for track cycling and the individual pursuit. I made the podium at trials, finishing third. But there was only one spot available. And there were only three of us who qualified to try for that one spot. Making the podium sounds better than last place, right?
What you read can be far from reality. Words can be twisted and pictures can be painted that look so nice in print or video. I found out very clearly that first try that no matter how good people thought I was, no matter what I had done in the past, no matter what was written about me or what I said I thought I could and would do: none of this would help me when I got to the starting line. Never have I been so alone in my athletic life than in those moments of silence, waiting for the gun to go off. It takes a tremendous amount of inner focus to be ready for this moment of truth; to face oneself and unleash all that has built inside for days, months, years….or even decades.
Which brings me to the point of this story. Because, as mentioned, as I am an Olympic junkie, I’ve been reading about many athletes from all different sports. I’ve read their past results and everything about them from what they eat for breakfast, what music they listen to, how many hours a day they sleep….what they dream of and how many tweets they make….you get the picture. If you read enough you’d think ‘wow, that person can’t lose!’. I’ve read of athletes sharing so much that I wonder….if you are sharing this much, spending this much time tweeting and doing press conferences and commercials, appearances etc., when do you train? When do you rest your brain and work on the most important thing: focus. When?
I’ve been around athletes talking so much about Olympic plans, what they will do after their races, what’s in store next year, and so on and so forth, that I can’t help but wonder: where is the here and the now? Talking about being in the Olympics is not going to get you there. Any sort of commercial or media attention may earn you dollars but in the end, those dollars will not buy a spot on a team, and certainly not on any podium.
I’m not saying that I have it all right and have the Olympic preparation dialed in. There are times this year, just like every other time I have gone through an Olympic year, when I have wanted to stop, when I have wondered why on earth I am doing this again to myself. Wondered why I find this challenge of sport so undeniably intriguing that I decided to give myself to it this one more time just to see what I can eek out of my inner being and what discoveries I can make.
And then I wonder, as the Trials unfold in the different sports, not just in Canada but around the world, just how certain athletes I’ve read about will perform. If I had a dollar for each athlete I’ve mentioned to my husband “I think they are doing too much media, somethings got to give….” and then, inevitably, they don’t make it and if they do, the best they had is left in some print ad or commercial on TV, not on the playing field at the Games…well if I had a dollar for each of these I would have a nice little coffee fund going.
I was lucky to learn this lesson early on. Show, don’t tell, is the best way I know to quietly move forward and build my strength, both physically and emotionally, for when it matters to me. I’m learning a lot by watching the actions of others. As always, these lessons make me look at myself and my own approach.
It’s never perfect but what is. As much as there is to learn from people’s mistakes in approach, there are beautiful lessons to learn as well. All of this is a reminder that the most important thing is, as my good friend Simon Whitfield was just quoted as saying in an article, to know there was nothing more you could have done to be fully engaged and fully prepared to execute excellence.