Olympic Experience Key in London
Lately, I’ve been asked a lot about how my previous experience will affect our performance in London. With this being my third Olympics, will anything be different? Will I be better prepared to race?
The truth is that each Olympics is completely different, but knowing what challenges to expect can only help.
Canadian rower Jake Wetzel (who finished seventh in Sydney, got a silver in Athens, and won gold in Beijing) once said that, “Your first Olympics is for spectating, your second is for competing, and your third is for winning.” I’m not sure if he just said that because that’s how it worked out for him, but there’s some truth to it.
There does seem to be a learning curve for many athletes, an education in being able to handle the heightened pressure and attention that come with an Olympic Games. This obviously does not apply to everyone. Some athletes are able to win in the first attempt. But hopefully my partner in the pair, Dave Calder, and I can follow a similar trajectory to Jake’s.
Here’s a look at my Olympic experiences, what I’ve learned, and how I’ll apply those lessons in London.
For my first Olympics, I was in the Canadian men’s eight and we went in as the clear favourites to win. We were supposed to essentially show up and pick up our gold medals. We went in with impressive race results from the previous two years and a solid, confident mindset. But what we didn’t have was a single athlete in the boat who had been to the Olympics before. We finished fifth.
As much as you try to treat it like any other race, the Olympics is simply different. I think the pressure, and the experience as a whole, was slightly overwhelming for such a young group. I can only speak for myself, but I remember being a bit awestruck. Having some veteran experience to guide us through the week of racing might have made a difference.
I love watching any elite-level sport, and in Athens I wanted to soak it all in. Whenever we weren’t training or travelling back and forth to the athletes’ village, I would be in the Canadian athletes lounge, hanging out with the other athletes and watching whatever event was on TV. To me, that was part of being at the Olympics.
We were completely focused on winning, but in hindsight, I think I may have gotten too caught up in everything else that is the Olympics.
Flash forward four years to Beijing, where I rowed in the men’s pair with Dave. We took the stark opposite approach – ignore everything to do with the Olympics, and try to treat it like any other race. We stayed at a hotel close to the rowing venue, which made it easier to block out the athletes’ village and other events going on.
We even avoided the opening ceremony. It would have been an amazing experience to walk into the Olympic Stadium flying the Canadian flag, but our first race usually happens on the first or second day of the Games, and standing around for four to six hours isn’t what you want to do for race prep. Unfortunately, our schedule means that rowers seldom go to the opening ceremony, but it did make it easier to stick to our “low-key” strategy.
I think our approach allowed me to stay much more relaxed and focused in the lead-up to our first race. The downside was that I remember getting to the start line for our heat and having a short, wide-eyed moment of realization where I said to myself “This is the Olympics!”
I was able to settle myself down and get ready to race. We recovered from a disappointing first race and went on to have a great race against Australia in the final, winning the silver medal. I’m not sure that would have happened without our experiences from Athens. Still, with the benefit of hindsight, I’m not sure “ignore everything Olympic” is the best approach either.
Heading into these Olympics, my goal is to strike a middle ground between my previous two strategies. I want to be aware of everything going on around us, and to take in the rare experience, but I don’t want to get too emotionally involved or distracted.
I know that our past will help to navigate us through the potential roadblocks that can pop up during the Olympics and help us race to our potential. This sort of opportunity doesn’t arise often, and being a veteran only makes me more aware of that.
I’m more aware of the honour and privilege that come with racing for Canada, and hopefully I’m more able to take it all in stride, use it, and race well.