I have to admit, I was pretty nervous in the day leading up to last nights competition. I tried to be calm and cool and just conserve my energy so that I would be able to explode when it was time to compete.
During warm up I tried to stay relaxed by taking lots of deep breaths and moving at a slow pace in between turns. I didn't want to go off and then have nothing left for the competition. I just wanted to get warm and hit one of each skill.
I am a planner. I've discussed it here before, but planning keeps me feeling calm and in control. I made a plan in the afternoon yesterday and I followed it to a T during warm up. Run, stretch, basic tumbling, vault, highbar, rings and then floor.
After the warm up was over, it was time to compete.
During our competition yesterday, we had a pretty big audience at the gym. Nothing crazy, but a good 150-200 people. That's not bad for a gymnastics meet in Canada! Usually we only have 5 people watching our test competitions. It was great to have an audience. I really liked having people in the gym. It created some electricity and some atmosphere that I think all of the guys enjoyed and appreciated.
The competition started on rings - this will be our first event in Beijing and so we will be starting with this event during all of our test competitions over the summer. I think this is an awesome place to start because it's quite hard to make mistakes on rings and you are almost guaranteed to stay on the apparatus! I have never seen anyone "fall" off of rings!
Because I am the weakest member of our team on rings, I'm the lucky one who gets to start the party! The way it usually works is that a team has their weakest guy go first and then the strongest guy go last so that the scores build. This creates some momentum and it gives the 'strongest' guy some more time to prepare himself to be a beast!!!
Well, being first up was a bit nerve wracking. Not only because I haven't competed in a while, but also because I wanted to start the day off right for myself and my team. When I was standing there waiting to compete, I kept trying to remind myself that this was just another routine and I needed to be relaxed and present.
Finally, after all of the other guys were done there one touch warm up, the head judge saluted me and it was go time!
Tony, my coach, lifted me up to the rings. I got a good grip and just hung there for a second. The music was playing softly in the background and I could vaguely hear it. Then, to my surprise, I heard the music turn off. I was completely distracted for a second. It was absolutely silent. It became very clear to me that every eye in the building was watching me. Oh shit.
Well, after the initial shock and distraction of silence, I figured that there wasn't much I could do about it so I quickly focused myself and began my routine.
I held my strength moves and swung pretty cleanly. I did my dismount, a tucked double twisting double back, and took a small step. I was on my feet and really happy with the way it went.
The crowd cheered! My teammates gave me props. One of my teammates, Dave Kikuchi, welcomed me back to the world of competitive gymnastics!
I was relieved! First routine down.
Oh, how I love competing!
My next event was vault. I felt fast and smooth on my run, tight and quick on my take off and I absolutely nailed my landing. I picked up right where I left off 10 months ago...well, maybe I'm a little wiser and more appreciative of my ability since then!
I don't compete on parallel bars, but was treated to awesome performances by my team. The whole time I was watching I was trying to pretend that this was the Olympics and I needed to stay focused and warm for my next 2 events, highbar and floor.
I was uber nervous for highbar. I don't know why, but I always get into a weird state of mind when it comes to competing this event. It might be because the routine that I do is very easy for me and I want to do it perfectly and that distracts me a bit because I don't see much room for error. I also know that I should be able to perform it easily and I take that for granted a bit.
Before I competed here, I tried to get myself into a really present and positive mind set. I told myself to be a warrior and attack the routine.
I saluted the judges and got lifted up to the bar.
I brought my toes to the bar, did a beat swing and swung up to handstand. After catching both of my release moves, I only had a few small deductions through out the rest of the routine (a couple of missed handstands and a heel bonk on one of my inbar elements). I can definitely make it cleaner over the next weeks, but I was really happy that I hit my routine!
3 routines down, 3 hits, one left to go...floor, the BIG one.
I was most anxious about this routine. Not only because I am the current Olympic Champion on this event, but because it is the routine that I have had the least amount of numbers on. For me, it has been the biggest challenge because I want to be GREAT on this event, not just content with average.
As it was my turn to perform, I could sense the anticipation in the crowd. I could also sense it within the coaches, my teammates and myself.
I tried to rely on my previous competition experience and trust that I was going to be fast and aggressive when I needed to be.
The judges gave me the go ahead. I saluted them and got into my zone.
I took a deep breath, stepped into the corner and began my routine.
First pass: arabian double pike. HUGE!
Second pass: clean
third pass: smooth, but then I bailed out on the third skill and just did a front pike rather than a 1 3/4 roll out. It's OK. Keep going.
Fourth pass: whip, layout thomas (this is a new addition!). Successfully done.
Fifth pass: Handspring to front double twist. Clean.
Then I had a decision to make. Was I going to go for a full-twisting double back or be ultra safe and just do a simple layout dismount. I felt strength and determination in my legs and my mind so I went for the full twisting double back...and landed it! Phew.
I think this had to be my biggest victory of the day (it is and was pretty obvious, I'm sure). Even though I made a couple of mistakes and used mats on most of my passes, I felt like this was a HUGE step forward. I was ecstatic when I completed this routine. I felt like I validated my potential to myself, my team, the coaches, judges, audience and press. Being out there competing on the floor felt so right.
Now, I have a confession to make: during the week of Nationals, I created a new routine with a big start value and I neglected to share. It was just an idea at first, something that I wanted to play around with, but then I thought really hard about it and decided that it was actually possible.
Not only is it possible, but I believe I will be able to do it well. I'm inspired.
I am going to push myself to get 6 tumbling passes in my routine. In Athens I had 4 and I have been doing 5 passes through all of this cycle. Now I guess urgency has been creeping up on me and I have given in. I was completely against 6 passes in a floor routine because I think it takes away an athletes opportunity to do some artistic corner parts. These creative and artistic elements are how I earned my international reputation and I think it was the big factor that contributed to my victory at the last Olympic Games. But, the good news is that I think I have come up with a blend of tumbling and artistry that will not compromise my integrity or my style.
Yesterday was the first day that I competed a routine with 6 passes. Could it be true that I am actually IMPROVING after my injury??? Maybe. Just maybe :)
Mission: Compete Again = Complete.
I felt proud. I felt overwhelmed. I felt energized. I felt comfortable and I felt inspired.
It was a grand day for me and I managed to take a moment at the end of it all and really appreciate the opportunity. I have fought so hard to get to this point. I still have a ways to go, but everyday I am proving to myself that I can do it. One small victory at a time.
ps- I forgot how hard it was to sleep after a competition. I was friggin' wired all night long!