The Olympic Athlete’s State of Mind
Weren’t the Olympics in Vancouver absolutely fantastic? It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime event that I’ll never forget! The amount of energy and excitement in the air brought everyone together, unifying the people of our city and our nation with immense pride and spirit!
I, for one, watched the most Olympics on TV that I have ever seen in my life! (Okay, those who know me know that I don’t actually own a TV, but luckily, I was able to stream all the events on CTV over the internet!) CTV’s coverage of the Olympics, in partnership with TSN and Sportsnet was amazing. They had comprehensive coverage of all the events, with expert commentary that made the experience of watching the events so much more meaningful and enjoyable to the audience.
One of my favourite things about the Olympic coverage was definitely the interviews that were conducted with the athletes, their coaches and families. Being a past DanceSport competitor myself, who was competing at the International level, I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for these athletes that train all year round and are at the top of their game. I know what it’s like to dedicate your entire mind, body and soul to pursue your dreams, and I have to say, even though it’s the most grueling and intense time of your life, it is also the most rewarding!
The theme that keeps coming back over and over again through these interviews is how important an athlete’s state of mind is. Sure, hard work, of course, is a key ingredient to success. But it definitely isn’t all there is. Many of these athletes have been training for years to pour everything they have into a 4-minute skate or a 3.5 second aerial jump… and this opportunity, on a world stage, in front of billions of people, comes only once every 4 years! When you think of it this way, it is so easy to become overwhelmed and to crack under the pressure.
The successful competitors deal with this pressure by being focused and confident. They don’t think about the results, but rather focus on the process. One of the common questions that were asked in the interviews was: “What are you thinking at the top of the hill or behind the gates as you prepare for your run/jump?” Freestyle skiing Canadian Gold medalist, Alex Bilodeau, said that he was totally “in the moment”. He knew that he did everything that he could and that he was ready to do his jumps with no regrets. Maelle Rickers, Canadian Gold medalist in the Snowboard Cross, also talked about being focused before her run. She said that she prepares by visualizing, thinking about her technique, being balanced on her board and believing that she can do it.
These competitors are so focused that nothing will shake them. Even when there were delays and crashes on the mountain, the best athletes were unaffected by it. They were able to refocus and get right back into their game. A great example of that was the Slovenian Cross Country skier, Petra Majdic, who fell in her training run, fracturing 4 ribs and suffering from a collapsed lung. Not only was she was able to gather all of her spirit and energy to go back and compete, but she ended up winning the Bronze medal in her event!
Likewise, Joannie Rochette, the top Canadian in Ladies Figure Skating, also displayed unrelenting spirit and courage. After experiencing the passing of her mother just days before the event, Joannie put on an amazing performance and won the Bronze medal for Canada. When asked how she did it, she attributed it all to her state of mind. She said that when she’s skating, she is in her own “bubble”, where she cannot be touched. “It is 4 minutes away from reality, just concentrating on my skate.” Focus and determination. That’s how she got through it.
You can train all you want, but if you are not mentally tough enough, you won’t be able to perform well when it really counts. This happens not only with top Olympic athletes, but even with DanceSport competitors here in BC at every level. Don’t just go to the competitions, hoping that you will dance as you do in practice. Instead, go to your practices as if they are competitions.
Be intensely focused and confident in everything you do. That’s the attitude that these Olympic champions have. Just as Elizabeth Manley, former Canadian Silver medalist in Figure Skating, said about true champions, “They skate it like champions, with meaning and aggression.” Even in their practices, these athletes are fully focused and confident… as they know that success depends largely on your state of mind.