Thursday, April 19, 2012

Feeling the Olympics

A lot of times you hear athletes say “yeah I’ve always been working toward becoming an Olympian” or “It was a childhood dream to do win this race”. And perhaps it was, but I think a lot of people on the outside see it as this linear path from childhood dream to Olympian or Tour Champion, ect. I think this journey has a lot of different manifestations, each unique to the athlete, but I have to believe for everyone it’s anything but linear.

I’m sure I dreamed about being an Olympian when I was a kid, but I probably was pretending I was winning a swimming event, or the Marathon or gymnastics in my backyard; I know I never was envisioning myself as an Olympic cyclist, I didn’t even consider it. And none of that was tangible; I couldn’t touch and feel it; it was just part of being a kid. As I have developed in this sport, my coach Jason and I have always talked about building for the next level of racing… First it was State Championships when I was 14, then Nationals when I was 18, then the domestic pro ranks, next racing U23 in Europe, then racing U23 World Cups, now its Elite World Cups… and suddenly the Olympics too! But a common theme for me has been that none of it has ever felt incredibly grandiose, its just seemed like the next logical step. I couldn’t seriously think about racing Elite World Cups when I was just getting ready to start racing as a domestic pro. Sure its something I could talk about, but wasn’t something I could even really conceive or understand when I was struggling to place in the top 40. I just didn’t know what that meant. Its really kinda hard to put this all in words, but I guess what its coming down to is that in December when I was named to the Olympic Long Team I felt like “wow that’s cool, what an honor to be included in this list! The Olympics are the pinnacle of sport!" But I didn’t know what it meant; I couldn’t feel it or really draw much motivation from it.

All of a sudden now I find myself in the midst of what is a legitimately an Olympic bid… I was the second American in South Africa, and the top American in Houffalize, Belgium last week at the second World Cup. At one point part of the way through the race last weekend, I suddenly felt the magnitude of this whole Olympics thing. By this point I was the top American on course, and moving forward, and I started thinking a little about how if I kept this up it would be really stellar for my Olympic prospects. The beginning of the thought was totally analytical, but the end was completely emotional. And this all of a sudden this gave me a huge boost of motivation. There were feelings of pride, accomplishment, humility, raw excitement and passion. It was all of a sudden tangible; I could feel it and ride that excitement. Suddenly I better understood what it could mean to represent the USA as one of the best MTBer’s in the nation (the world for that matter), on an international stage…. On the premier international stage! God it was such a cool feeling!!!

There is still certainly a whole lot of racing left between now and the end of May when the Olympic committee makes their selections for the team. But I find myself in a good place knowing that I am very much going to have to be in that discussion. I can’t say what is best for the team, experience gets the older guys a long way, but youth and raw excitement plays well too… and Rio 2016 always has to be in the discussion; how does a decision potentially effect the outcome of that race? What I can say, is that I now am much more aware of the magnitude and presence of the Olympics… I know what it will mean to me. I know how I will draw motivation from it. This is stuff I didn’t know 5 months ago, and had little knowledge of even 5 days ago… I know it suddenly seems like the next logical step :)

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