December 11, 2009
Emotional roller-coasterAthletes are running the gamut of feelings as they gun for Olympic gold in Vancouver
By ALISON KORN, QMI AGENCY
It's got to be every athlete's favourite question: "How do you feel?"
Or, especially during the Olympic year: "Are you nervous? Are you excited?"
The Olympics stir up a turmoil of emotions for athletes hoping to qualify or preparing to go. It's normal to be scared and ecstatic at the same time -- and equally OK to be robotic and on autopilot, if that's what works for you.
In the past week, cross-country skier Chandra Crawford has said she was "super relieved and thrilled" to earn her Olympic berth, while hockey player Delaney Collins was "devastated and proud" after being cut from the women's squad for the third straight Olympics.
The deepest reflection on feelings I've heard so far is from luge athlete Jeff Christie. Weary of trying to sum it all up in a simple sound bite, he expounds on his blog: "I am happy, sad, excited, nervous, tired, stiff, snappy, fearful, questioning, powerful, and sluggish. I am concentrated, laughing, smiling, confused, frustrated, crushed, hurting, full of anticipation, over my head, and on top of the world. I am proud, supportive, in need of advice, focused, contemplative, euphoric, friendly."
That's candid, for you.
"All of these can come and go in the course of a day, a training session, even during a run down the track," said Christie. "This is what I feel, this is what I experience, this is what I am."
The ability to quickly and regularly distil your feelings into words is one of the extra, non-sport skills an Olympic athlete has to develop. Like it or not.
"One thing you always ask the athletes to do is try to describe what their ideal state is to perform in," said sports psychologist Judy Goss of the Canadian Sport Centre Ontario. "I'm sure he's describing all the feelings that he's really having right now. I'd try to get him to focus more on the ones he needs to have a good performance."
The Canadian luge team is in Whistler to hold their final training sessions on the Olympic track, in the lead-up to the Canadian Championships on Dec. 17. On Dec. 15, they'll meet the local community, sign autographs and take photos while introducing their sport.
Throughout all this, Christie has a standard answer that, no, he is not nervous or excited. He'd rather suppress that and deal with it after the event.
"I have learned over the years that if I give into those feelings, I don't perform well," Christie said. "However, the reality is that of course I am excited. As for nerves, well I am human, and about to compete in the biggest event of my life in my home country.
"So the answer is obvious, yes, I am nervous. Again though, I have learned that if I give into those feelings I don't perform well. So much, like the excitement and the nervousness, is suppressed, to be dealt with at a later date."
Goss, who is currently working with figure skaters, has athletes tell her they're nervous already. That's good, she replies, because then they have the chance to learn to cope with it.
She has advised some athletes to "pick a symbol," such as the Canadian flag that they look in every arena, or even a broken skate guard from their past that they bring with them to competitions, that helps them maintain their focus.
"You can't let it get too overwhelming," said Goss. "The goal is always the same: to perform well. It's maintaining that focus and not getting too carried away."