Britt finding the Olympic Mindset
 

The Olympic Mindset

Octubre 09 — 2018

In the life of a professional athlete, focus is the fulcrum between confidence and caution. I’ve dedicated my whole life to aspiring to be the best in the world, in the sport I love, and when all the work had been done, and the biggest race of my life was right in front of me, all I had to do was focus on skiing. 

After an exhausting World Cup season and a final preparation camp in Whistler, I was finally heading to the PyeongChang to represent Canada in the Winter Games. The days of travel before the games left me feeling impatient and somewhat frustrated. I’d spent my entire life dreaming of an Olympic podium spot, and now on my way to my second Olympics, I felt confident this was my chance to realize that dream. But I was sick of dreaming, I wanted to be in the start gate, and I wanted to be soaring through the course.

Juliana Free Agent Rider, Olympic Medalist ... Meet our resident Mega Athlete, Britt Phelan!

The Olympic track was definitely one of the most intimidating courses I’ve raced. Big jumps and a technical start had all my nerves firing. I tore through the start, my timing felt great, even though the first run on a new track always feels a tad miscalculated and adaptive. I was flying through it, all the way up to the tricky off-camber turn right after the step-up jump. The run abruptly ended after one wrong move left my equipment strewn across the course and my goggles full of snow. My mind flashed to the nightmare scenario, “Am I injured? Is my Olympic dream over?” A quick body-scan concluded I hadn’t hurt anything beyond my pride, but a new roadblock had situated itself in the back of my mind for my remaining practice runs.

All of a sudden, my whole Olympic focus had changed. I’d approached the Games with a winning attitude, and now I was reverting to survival mode. After so much effort spent training for the biggest stage in my sport, I’d forgotten how to ski. Here I was at the Olympics, I had one bad run and I was already starting to question my whole career! 

I spent every second of downtime combing through old video, visualizing technique, and hashing it out with my sports psychologist. My qualifying run was coming, whether I was ready or not.

I wore bib number nine, and came down in first position. I had no issues with the jumps from practice; in fact, I barely had any issues at all. At the end of qualification, I sat comfortably in third with my teammates Marielle and Kelsey going one and two respectively.

I felt a little wave of relief. A third place in qualification silenced any skill-questioning voice that had crept in my mind the days before. I could ski with the best, and be one of the best.

Sport has me constantly running a fine line between being too aggressive and overly confident, versus being cautiously complacent and satisfied. As an athlete, I needed to find the balance, as a professional, I needed to perform. Neither of which allowed me the time and energy of worrying.

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Juliana Bicycles Image
Don Palermini

Though she is fast on the snow, she is just as fast in the dirt.  

The night before the race, sleep was replaced with adrenaline. My alarm reminded me that in 8 hours, my Olympic dreams would be put to bed for another four years. I’d have enough time to sleep then, too.

Training started off smoothly, I was confident and self-aware. Qualifying finishes in quarter and semi-finals left me standing in the start gate of the finals in a dream-like state. In a true sports moment, time slowed down as I looked onto the course. I could see the whole mountain laid out in front of me and hear the spectators cheering. I felt the snow shake under the assault of the speakers. It was a moment I can still picture perfectly, no matter how much time has passed since the Olympics.

Finally, after all the build-up, the starter yells “Skiers Ready”.

The gate drops. I hesitate slightly on the timing, launching out of the start in fourth place. I was a little behind the group but hadn’t lost any speed. I could still feel the draft from the racers ahead of me, the lack of air resistance that rubber-bands ski cross racers together. I try pulling out for a pass on the first straight, but a racer from Sweden quickly blocks the line. I settle back into fourth. I have a few passing zones highlighted in my mind but know I have to be patient. One small mistake and I could lose the draft and my shot at a medal.

Heading into the lower section of the course, there’s a sharp left turn. Two racers ahead of me take the turn wide, and for a fraction of a second, I see an open line. I arc the turn as much as I can to stay tight on the inside line, blowing by 2nd and 3rd, to move into second place with only 20 seconds of the course remaining.

I let myself ski on autopilot. I know these rollers perfectly, and I know how to hit the jumps. I don’t have to make a risky move to pass, first is too far ahead. I focus on skiing the tightest line possible, and not making any mistakes. Jump, land. jump, land. I’m meters away from the finish. I stretch out to dip my hand through the line, and cross in second place!

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Juliana Bicycles Image
alpinecanada

Just double checking it wasn't all a dream.  

I’ve spent my entire life dreaming of this moment, and it happened! After crossing the finish line, everything was a blur. All the time and energy I spent thinking through my every move was released and I could indulge in this wave of victory. An onslaught of hugs, tears, interviews, and photoshoots kick started my new life as an Olympic medalist… and another day of travel to my next race. Work rests for nothing, not even an Olympic Silver Medal!

The whole story still seems like a dream. I feel good writing about it, almost in a sense that if I write it all down then no one can tell me it didn’t happen. The success of that day was the sum of every moment I’ve spent working for sport. A lifetime of passion and pain all in one moment. Up to that point, my entire career had more heartbreak than success. So many years of effort, of patience and trust in myself, of believing in the fact that one day it would all be worth it.

I can’t say I really understood how much commitment would be required to reach the Olympics when I was skipping lunch to hit the jumps at Tremblant at 12 years old, but it’s a dream I’ve had my whole life. I’ve given absolutely everything I have to the sport of skiing. A lifetime of effort. Often I think that the real beauty of the sport is the purpose it’s given me, the incessant need to commit everything I have to get faster, stronger and better.

Cheer Britt on as she begins the road to Beijing in 2022. Follow her 2018 winter training on Instagram and check back for more stories from our athletes.

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