Based on the results in South Korea, Canada’s formula for future Olympic success is obvious
By Bruce Dowbiggin
CALGARY – I know it’s still four years until the next Winter Olympics in Japan. But when they start the planning for Canada’s next Winter Games contingent, might I recommend that they let the freestylers run the show?
You may have noticed the Canadian freestyle skiers and snowboarders as they took on half-pipes, ski cross, moguls and big air in PyeongChang. They were the ones winning 11 medals for the nation – almost 40 percent of Canada’s record haul of 29 medals.
They were also the ones whooping and hollering and dancing at the base of the hill as they watched each other – and their competitors – hurtle through death-defying leaps, spins and falls on the course. They were, to borrow a well-worn phrase, stoked at just about everything that happened.
If you watched even one of these events you know that they do this in the face of extreme danger. Injuries are gruesome. No big whoop. When the medals were determined, they hugged each other. They hugged their opponents. They threw back they heads and laughed. It was all a party.
In short, they seemed like people who couldn’t spell pressure if you spotted them the p-r-e-s-s-u-r. If finding your bliss in the snow is truly a thing, these young guys and ladies must have reached the seventh level of Performance Tantra.
What made the expressions of joy from the freestylers and boarders so distinct was the grim-faced, tension-filled, nervous-breakdown countenance of so many athletes in other disciplines. If you could’ve actualized the pressure felt by these athletes in figure skating, alpine skiing, curling, and hockey, you’d have seen an enormous tonne of bricks poised on their shoulders.
There were notable exceptions to this, of course. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will never have to buy themselves a drink again in Canada after facing down the judges, their lyrical French opponents and the mountain of pressure in the dance competition. Short-track speedster Kim Boutin skated off with three medals despite an online assault from furious Korean fans.
But in many cases, athletes were gasping in the pressure of a quadrennial shot at stardom, a payoff for thousands of hours of preparation. The nadir of this soul-crushing expectation had to be women’s singles figure skater Gabrielle Daleman of Canada, who went from a possible medal to falling on virtually every element of her long program. It was soul-destroying to see her dreams crushed in that five-minute span.
There were plenty of others who seemed unable to surmount their expectations. The once-invincible men and women curlers, who produced zero medals for the first time since the sport was introduced to the Olympics, could never seem to shake the jitters (although the mixed team did). Canada’s once-heralded alpine program is now just a rumour of their past Crazy Canuck glory after a mediocre performance.
But this was Canada’s most successful Olympics because the boarders and freestylers won over a third of the medals with their insouciant style. Listening to them post-performance, they had the same mental coaches as everyone else. Yet there was something different. They crushed their fears.
The newness of the sports – X Games’ spawn – is also partly responsible for the result. There is no generations-old history to weigh you down. You are free to write your own stories without thinking you’re letting down a glorious tradition. The suits who run your sport are not prune-faced former Soviet apparatchiks and power-hungry technocrats defending their turf.
(Having covered Olympic sports for more than three decades, I have seen these people. They do not inspire free-wheeling fun. And if you think that doesn’t have an effect on the sometimes very young performers, I have some Russian drug tests for you.)
Every performance by the boarders seemingly lets you break new artistic and technical ground instead of treading a well-worn path from Olympics past. The glass is half-full, not half-frozen.
We need to infect the rest of Canada’s Olympic competitors with this free spirit. Get boarder fever. Catch the freestyle flu.
Might I also suggest another way to leaven the pressure? Tell the young people representing Canada not to publicly dedicate their performances before they perform? There’s plenty of time to talk after you compete about your inspirations and the mothers, fathers, teachers and pet monkeys who deservedly require credit.
But while you’re preparing for something so enormous, having even more people who you might let down with a poor performance is just adding to the pressure. Your job is to be singular, almost selfish in focus. Letting down Gramps back in Gravenhurst is not a positive performance thought.
What does work is pursuing your bliss – in spite of all the forces that want to make themselves more important than your result. Oh, and laughing your toque off. Just like the freestylers.
Columnist Bruce Dowbiggin’s career includes successful stints in television, radio, and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he is also the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster.
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