Olympians must persevere

By ALISON KORN, Special to QMI Agency

Ah, the Olympics — where an athlete’s body gets pampered, but the mind can take a walloping.

Pampered bodies? Oh, yes. After years of battering themselves physically in training, athletes in Vancouver are enjoying short, invigorating training sessions and spending their pre-competition time resting, stretching, napping, getting massages — anything to pass the time without wasting energy.

For an athlete, it’s glorious to experience the peak of an Olympic training plan, which when done right, causes you to bubble over with aggression, confidence and readiness to drop the hammer at just the right moment.

But then, enter the delays. The men’s alpine skiing downhill competition at Whistler Creekside originally scheduled for Saturday morning has been postponed to Monday due to rainy, slushy weather conditions. Snowboardcross training was cancelled Saturday, too, to allow for course work and preservation due to the warm weather.

Welcome to the psychology of waiting. Dealing with the unexpected is the same for all athletes, but the winner will be whoever copes with surprises the best.

“It does introduce another variable, and the people who will handle it the best are the ones who are most thoroughly prepared for it, even at the level if they’ve discussed it with each other, or discussed it in their own brain,” said longtime Olympic rowing coach Al Morrow. “I remember whenever there was any adversity, I always used to smile because I felt we were better prepared.”

Delays are one thing, adversity is another. A master of mental preparation, I knew I owed Morrow a call on this topic, since he guided my peers and I to such success. He recalled the bombing during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Two people died and 111 were injured.

That night, Morrow left a note under his athletes’ doors: “Bomb has gone off downtown. Racing will continue. Expect some delays due to security.”

All his crews followed his lead, carried on and raced well.

“It’s almost a given that there will be something that happens (at the Olympics),” Morrow said. “Is it better to carry on? That’s the big debate. If everything like that interfered with your plan, it’s almost like you’ve given in.”

The death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili Friday will have rattled, shocked and sickened many Olympic athletes in Vancouver. It’s something nobody visualized or planned for and yet now we can’t escape that video. But callous as it is to say, the best athletes in the world are going to be able to park that tragedy — already have — and continue on with their plan.

Does that sound really awful? They’re on auto-pilot. Punch in, punch out. Don’t think, just do. They have to.

“If you have this punch-in, punch-out approach you just sort of sit back and rely on it,” Morrow said. “It’s what you’re programmed to do, keep it simple. It does sound very cold, but then if you look back at it in five years, would you have rather done it any other way? I should have just given up and let it dominate my thoughts? I think you’d probably regret you did that.”

There’s a time to mourn and a time to go on with life — and competition. We tell ourselves that Kumaritashvili would want the competition to continue. Mentally, that will be the challenge of these Games.

When you’re an athlete, the decision seems so clear cut. You carry on despite tragedy. Stick to the plan. But outside that bubble, for those of us not in the zone, it’s hard to stop feeding on the story.

alison_korn@hotmail.com

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