Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sochi Olympic Experience Wrap Up

What an absolutely incredible Olympic Games experience.

I came into Sochi with a completely different approach to Vancouver. Vancouver 2010 was my first Olympics. I was young (21 years old), new to the sport of Ski Cross, eyes wide open and ready to soak up the Olympic experience. Being an Olympian was what I dreamed of ever since I first started to compete, and it was fantastic. I finished 15th in the first ever Ski Cross Olympic Games event.

Since 2010, I have matured as an athlete. I know myself. I know what works and what doesn’t work on and off the slopes, and what was required in order to achieve a personal best result in Sochi.

This time round, being my second Olympics, the focus was all about the race. I didn’t march in the Opening Ceremony so I could stay in Austria and train for an extra few days. I participated in activities that I could in the athletes’ village, as long as it didn’t interfere with my training regime. As much as I would have loved to support many of my Australian teammates compete from the grandstands prior to my race, I chose to watch on live from the Australia House. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend one Australian medal celebration. I congratulated Torah, Lydia and Dave personally instead. Every decision I made was geared towards giving myself the absolute best opportunity to perform on the day. And it 100% payed off.

Just over a week ago, I finished 7th in the Ski Cross at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. It was Australia’s best ever Olympic female result in the discipline, and the highlight of my career.

We managed to get one of the worst weather days of the whole Sochi Games. Rain, snow, fog and warm temperatures. This didn’t bother me and if anything I managed to turn it into an advantage. After all, being from Australia, this is what we learnt to ski in!

The first great surprise of the day was when I caught a glimpse of my mum, dad and boyfriend in the stands. It was pouring with rain and we had just done our first training run. I came to the bottom, drenched from head to toe, and heard some cheering. The stand was completely empty, not a person in site, except for the three of them covered in plastic ponchos. That put a massive smile on my face!

All of the training, both physical and mental, seemed to come together on the day. I had a solid qualification run, posting the 11th fastest time in a field of 28 competitors.

My first heat went exactly to plan. I came out of the start gate in second place, and held my position right to the finish line. No risky moves, no crazy passing attempts, just enough to get through to the quarterfinals.

In the next round I had a terrible start. I miss-timed the first feature and was well back in last. For just a split second I thought it was over. Then all of the training I have done over the past four years kicked in; I didn’t come this far to get knocked out on a small mistake in the start! I fought back hard, making a pass on Yulia Livinskaya of Russia midway down the course (much to the crowd’s disappointment) putting myself into third. Then in a bold move right on the last turn, it was now or never. I went for it. In this sport I would rather go down trying than not trying at all. I risked it all and made an inside pass on both Marielle Thompson of Canada and Sanna Luedi of Switzerland. The move was not random; it was carefully studied from hours of video analysis. It was a passing opportunity I had sitting in the back of my head until I needed to use it. I crossed the finish line in second. What an incredible feeling to come from last to second and qualify myself a spot for the semi finals.

I couldn’t celebrate yet though. I still had two more runs to get through, and hopefully a chance for a medal in the big final.

In the semis I somehow avoided a massive pile-up with Sandra Neslund from Sweden on the top section of the course. This crushed my speed and I was unable to finish in the top two needed to progress through to the big final. In the small final I finished third, putting me in 7th place overall. When I crossed the finish line after my sixth and final run for the day, the first thing I did was look to the crowd. I was so excited and exhilarated, and I couldn’t think of anyone better to share it with than my family there in the stands. It was an incredible experience, and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

I am absolutely delighted with the result. My goal in Sochi was a top eight, and it is extremely satisfying to come home having achieved that. I have been overwhelmed by the amount of support I have received from friends, family and fans back home. I am so excited that this event put people on the edges of their seats. After all it’s why I love the sport! It’s thrilling to watch, and even more incredible to compete in. It makes you feel alive.

I feel like I gave it my absolute best effort the race hill that day. And it is a nice feeling to have. I will not be finishing out the last four World Cup races of the season. After spending less than eight weeks at home in the last 12 months, it’s time to go home and celebrate this victory with my friends and family.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has helped me to achieve this incredible Olympic Games result. It was truly a team effort on many parts.
Thank you to my long-time coach Matt Lyons, who has been working with me for the past eight years, and who has built a world-class Australian Ski Cross program from scratch. To Danny Geiger and Shawn Fleming, who have been exceptionally supportive coaches, and have offered a new dimension to my skiing over the past three years. To my brilliant and talented ski technician Marcos Ruiz Nevaro, who has been with the team and I since 2009, and has produced exceptional results. To my teammates Jenny Owens, Sami Kennedy Sim, Anton Grimus and Scott Kneller. I have gained so much from you all. It’s been one crazy journey to the Games together. To the physiotherapists who worked with me this season, Anthony Williams and Aerin De Leva. Thanks for keeping my body in one piece in such a gruelling sport! To strength and conditioning coach John Marsden, who got my fitness and strength to a level I didn’t think was possible. To nutritionist Siobhan Crawshay, who helped me put on the muscle I needed to over the past two years, and was an incredible help throughout the Games period. To the Olympic doctors Larissa Trease and Doc Braun, sports psychologist Ferry Lee, and to all of the AOC staff who made the Olympic Games a smooth-sailing experience for all of the athletes.

A big thank you to the Australian Olympic Commission, Olympic Winter Institute, the Victorian Institute of Sport and the NSW Institute of Sport for their world class training programs; and to the University of Melbourne for allowing me to achieve my academic goals as well as my sporting goals.

To my personal sponsors; Rip Curl, 2XU, POC Australia, Thule, XTM, Komperdell, Stoeckli and Premax, thank you for choosing me as an ambassador for your brand, having faith in me and supporting me over the years.

Last but not least, to my partner, my parents, my family and my friends, for the unwavering support ever since I had the crazy idea of becoming a dual Olympian. There have been many ups and downs, but ultimately it has been one hell of a journey to remember and cherish forever.

And now for the best part; some pictures that probably describe my Olympic experience better than I can...

I can't remember what was so funny, but obviously pretty happy to be in Sochi...!

Meeting the big Russian Babushka. Sami, Aerin, myself and Olympic Champion Marielle Thompson from Canada.

Having some fun in the rings with Sami and Aerin.

Training two days prior to the race in some finer weather. Photo by Getty Images.

Race Day. Looking a little gloomy at 7am.

Some inspiration from mum prior to my race. Race conditions look a little similar?!

Absolute troopers. Mum, Liam and Dad in the pouring rain and empty stands in the early morning. That's commitment! 

Qualification Run. Photo by GEPA.

Photo by Getty Images.

Photo by Getty Images.

Happy to have qualified in 11th, and soaking up the atmosphere. Photo by Getty Images.

Vying for position in the first heat. Photo by Getty Images.

Celebrating going through to quarter finals with Sanna Leudi of Switzerland. Photo by Getty Images.

Sanna Leudi (Switzerland), myself and Marielle Thompson (Canada) racing for the top two spots in the quarter finals. Photo by GEPA.

Making a pass on the inside on the final turn of the course. Image by AAP.

Photo by Getty Images.

Getting tangled in the Small Final. Katrin Offner (Austria), myself, Sandra Neslund (Sweden) and Fanny Smith (Switzerland). Photo by Getty Images.

Fanny Smith having some fun on the last jump back in fourth in the Small Final. Photo by Getty Images.

Looking towards Mum, Dad and Liam in crowd after finishing seventh. Photo by Getty Images.

My number one fans.

Happened to come across good friend and ex-Olympic Ski Cross racer from Japan, Noriko Fukushima. A great surprise!

Long-time team mate Jenny Owens and I celebrate after the race.

Marcos and I wrapped with a great result.

My friends back on Melbourne enjoying the Women's Ski Cross event live!

Finally, it's time! Anton shaves his beloved beard for a good cause; the Rob Kneller Youth Foundation, aimed at raising funds to increase youth participation and excellence in snow sports in the Jindabyne area.

Can't even recognise him!

Finally able to check out a few events. The grand stand for the mens slalom night event.

Sochi t-shirt anyone?

Mens night slalom.

The coastal athletes village in Sochi.

Sochi 2014 Ski Cross Team shot.

Melbourne University athletes Anton Grimus, Brody Summers and I.

Closing ceremony march. Soaking up the last hours of the Games with my team mates. 

The Closing Ceremony. Image by AAP.