Monday, February 22, 2010

February 22, 2010 – Whistler, Canada

Day 10
Well the sun still rises after a day of mild disappointment. We finished the 2-man race in sixth place. We were less than half a second away from a bronze medal. Going into the final two heats, we (my driver Steve Holcomb and I) were only .12 seconds from the medals. I think that gave us just taste of what it would be like to win and in a way, that set us up for a little disappointment. Our runs final runs were clean and smooth and push times were competitive, we just didn’t go fast. That’s part of the sport. Our best guess is that our runner selection was for colder temperatures and harder ice. It was near 40 degrees for the race and the ice was a little soft.
Even in spite of the disappointing feeling, I can’t express how much fun it was to race. Man, the crowd was going crazy and it was the loudest start I’ve ever seen. I think it was louder for the Americans than it was for the Canadians! I crossed the finish line, got out of the sled, and waved to the crowd and got to see my mom waving frantically back. It was a great moment to wear the red, white, and blue. I’m definitely not going to forget the big picture and not get too caught up in winning to forget the ride I’ve been blessed to be a part of. I wanted the last few heats to go a little differently, but I’ll still smile about it every time I think about the race.
On to 4-man…

February 21, 2010 – Whistler, Canada

Day 9
There is a lot of talk about how unsafe the bobsled track is. During training this week and even after the first day of racing yesterday, over half of the questions from the media were centered around the danger of the sliding sports. The death of the Georgian luger began the concern and last night saw six teams drop out of the race due to crashing. And I’m sure there are even more crashes to come tonight as well as next week in 4-man.
So we turned all the talk into a more lighthearted conversation. In the lounge area yesterday night a number of athletes were talking about the danger of all the winter sports and comparing it to the summer games. This became a comical and exaggerated conversation, but we’ve concluded that the winter sports are just more thrilling and dangerous than all the summer sports. If you take a typical athletic person and put them through all the Olympic sports, there isn’t much that a person simply couldn’t finish in the summer games. Of course their times or distances might not be stellar, but they could at least finish the competition. That’s not the case with the winter sports. There is the chance of fatal injury in just about everything (I know a morbid conversation, especially as we are in the middle of the competitions). In the summer, you could what? Miss the pole vault pit? Overturn a kayak? Fall off a horse? . . . But in the winter games, would you have the courage to jump off the ski jump slope and soar 120 meters? Fly through the air at 40 feet doing aerials? Go 95+ mph in a bobsled or luge sled? I know, I know curling brings the thrill level of winter games down a little. But the argument could be made that it takes more of an athlete to do curling than it does for archery.
So bottom-line, while the summer games have more athletes and variety of sports, it takes a real sense of courage to be a winter athlete. Anyone can finish a 3000m run, but would you have the guts to go through Curve 50/50 with only a helmet for protection in a skeleton sled? And what’s worse…you have to do all these mentioned winter sports in -20 degree weather!!

Friday, February 19, 2010

February 19 - Whistler, Canada

Day 6
Everyone seems to claim that their state has the worst variance in weather. “If you don’t like the weather in Nebraska . . . wait ten minutes.” But I really think that might be true here in Whistler. We have been here six days and I have woken up to the sun bolting through the window into my eyes, the sound of the snow plow clearing a few inches of snow from the streets, and the sound of the Nebraska-like winds whipping the flags outside near my room. In a couple weeks, I’m going to look forward to Mother Nature allowing me to sleep in a little!
Yesterday at the USA House (a hospitality building outside of the village for athletes to relax, watch some events, meet with family, etc), I had dinner with some teammates. While we were there Julia Mancuso had a reception party for winning her second silver medal in two days. They were the first medals I’ve seen in person. It’s hard to explain but an Olympic medal carries a sense of presence like nothing else, at least to an athlete. Even while other people were speaking and the highlights were playing on tv, the center of all the attention was the two round chunks of medal around Julia’s neck. The respect and admiration that they demand is incomparable to any other trophy or prize. It’s the representation of years of a person’s life. In two days I will have the chance to win my own in the 2-man and again in eight days in the 4-man race. The thrill of competing in the Olympics is one thing, but if I should be fortunate enough to win a medal, believe me that I will cherish it with more pride than I can express in words.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

February 17, 2010 - Whistler, Canada

Day 5:
The village is set up much like a college campus. There are about fifteen buildings of housing. Here in Whistler the housing will be sold as condos once the games are over. In Vancouver, they were more like apartments. Each building is filled with a couple countries. In our building there is the USA, Australia, and Albania. Of course because we have more athletes, we take up the second, third, and fourth floors. The great part about having all the American athletes together is that this is really the only time that we get to meet people of other sports. Occasionally we may cross paths during our seasons, but rarely do we get so spend much time together. So I like to spend as much time as I can in the Athlete’s Lounge area. It’s designated room on the third floor with couches, televisions, and computers. The athletes go there and watch all the live feeds from all the competitions that day. There are unlimited snacks and drinks (dried fruit and Powerade). I’ve already spent hours and hours in the lounge. It’s fun to watch luge with actual luge athletes. They give you not only the play-by-play, but can also tell you about the personalities of all the athletes from the other countries. Plus it’s a great atmosphere to cheer for our home country whether is snowboard cross to figure skating. We all have one team. Spending time in the lounge will be one of my best village memories.

Monday, February 15, 2010

February 14, 2010 - Whistler, Canada

There are some drawbacks to competing on the last day of the Olympics. Everyone else in the village is done and they are relaxed and partying while my team and I are trying to stay focused on the race. The anticipation grows and can get to you if you let it. Patience is key. But one advantage of not racing or even being able to practice right now is the fact that we get to spend our evenings in the Athlete Lounge Center in the athlete’s village. It’s the living room/game room that every kid dreams of having when they grow up. The Whistler Village is providing us with the best way to stay relaxed…video games! Last night many of the athletes from all over the world gathered in the lounge for battles in Rock Band, Dance Revolution, and my favorite, pinball! I know the expectation is that we are grown, mature adults. But given the chance, we all act like six year olds. Of course the competitive nature of everyone comes out and pride is on the line. Everything we do has to have a winner and loser. These are definitely the behind-the-scenes that you don’t see on television.
I do have to admit that my right leg is a little tired from playing the drums in Rock Band. It’s hard to let others play when no one can beat you!

February 13, 2010 - Whistler, Canada

Yesterday a terrible tragedy took place on the luge track. A 23 year old from Georgia died as he took a training run in preparation for his Olympic race the next day. He simply steered too hard off the exit of the last curve and launched himself out of the track at over 90 mph. He ran into a support pole nearby. There is a lot of talk about who is to blame and how this could have been prevented, but I want to avoid that. Nothing can bring this young man’s life back. He anticipated the two weeks of his life, representing his small country to the world. Instead his family will never see him alive again.
This is a reminder of how incredibly dangerous the sliding sports are. We strive to go faster and faster every day. We try to minimize friction in order to win, but that same friction is what gives us control in a near uncontrollable contraption. We wear minimal safety equipment and a crash can happen at any time on any track. Hopefully, the necessary lessons will be learned and this type of incident will never happen again. But as long as we are competitive and strive to get faster, the element of danger will always exist.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

February 12, 2010 - Opening Ceremonies

I really don’t think an athlete can put into words the feeling of walking through Opening Ceremonies at the Olympic Games. Yesterday the anticipation built all day long as we did various activities knowing that it would climax with the athletes’ parade into the stadium. Earlier in the afternoon, we were given the opportunity to hear fantastic speech by Vice President Joe Biden. He told us that being a world class athlete is something inside us and not something that we can do on the playing field. After his speech we were able meet him and have some pictures taken.
Then we were escorted in the hockey arena, next to the Opening Ceremonies stadium. Here all the athletes from all the countries sat and waited for the beginning of the ceremony and their turn to walk in the parade on television. Of course the order is alphabetical, so the United States has a long wait. During that time, I got to meet a personal hero, Dan Patrick. When I was younger, I listened to Dan give the news on all the sports highlights on SportsCenter on ESPN. Now he has a radio show on Fox Sports Radio. He’s a very down-to-Earth guy that is willing to talk about anything, not just sports. I also met his co-worker for the games, Chris Collins, who is normally an NFL analyst on Sunday nights.
When the parade for the athletes began, but before we entered the stadium, you could feel the excitement in the athletes. Not one person could hold back a smile. Our long time trainer and passionate American Byron Craighead had tears in eyes before we even started to walk. As the walk into the lights started, I looked up with my teammates and saw the rings high on the opposite side of the stadium. Those rings mean something when you know that they are there because of you and what you have worked for.
The part of the Ceremony that we were able to see was amazing. The ceremony was held indoors in a doom, so there were questions about what they could do to impress the world, but the show didn’t cease to amaze. The lighting was incredible. They portrayed 3-D images on the floor while performers danced, fiddled, and ran around. Bryan Adams, Nelly Fertado, and Sarah McLaglin are just a few of the singers that I’ve heard on the radio growing up that took the stage. Then, of course another highlight is seeing the torch lit for the first time. Among the Canadian stars to light the torch was Wayne Gretzky, the hockey great.
I was truly a night I will never forget. I had more of an appreciation this time compared to four years ago, because I knew what to expect and I knew how much all the athlete sacrifice to get a chance to be there. I hope everyone realizes the genuine excitement that the athletes feel knowing the entire country is watching and giving them their support.