Yesterday, at the conclusion of our final Olympic selection camp, our team was finally named. Let me introduce you to the gentlemen who will represent Canada at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games:
This is an incredibly strong team. I don't think we even know how good we are. I believe we are going to be the surprise of the Games and I am so proud and honored to be a part of this group. Our goal as a team is to place top 8 in the qualification and to move on to the team finals where anything can happen. I am really looking forward to experiencing success with my teammates. Also, the celebrations afterwards are going to be insane!
Can you believe that I am going to be a 3 time Olympian??? That is bloody crazy. You know you're legit when you're a competitor at 3 Olympic Games. I believe I am only the second gymnast from Canada to qualify to 3 Games, the other being Alan Nolet ('88, '92, '96). What an accomplishment. This is actually one of the main goals that has helped me push through this year. I've always wanted to be a part of this rarefied group and it is something that I am very proud of.
You don't get many triple Olympians in gymnastics. The life span of a gymnast is usually pretty short because we start at such a young age and it is so demanding on all levels. I know some athletes who started competing in their sports when they were 12, 13, some even 18 years old. I started competing when I was 8 and I competed in my first Olympic Games when I was 18.
My first Olympics were Sydney 2000. I consider these my "experience" Olympics. I was young, wide eyed and just elated to be there. It was my first major Games and I learned so much. I went as an individual with Sasha Jeltkov because Canada didn't qualify a full team to the Games. It was a stressful process of qualifying too as I had to travel around the world competing at numerous World Cups in order to reach a top 16 world ranking. Eventually I surpassed that and ended with a top 8 ranking, but I didn't find out I would be going to the Games until a month and a bit before. I ran around my house when I found out!
Being there was the accomplishment. I had high hopes, but my world didn't revolve around my Olympic success. I just wanted to represent Canada well and get the free clothing package! haha.
I can remember competing on floor and not being able to feel my legs before I started my routine! That was a little concerning, but when I began to tumble I felt quick and powerful. I actually had a little too much power and my toe went out of bounds. I got a .1 deduction for the mistake and I ended up scoring a 9.575 and a 12th place finish. With that .1 back, I would have scored a 9.675 and ended up 4th and qualified to the finals. I was so close and pretty disappointed that I made such a small, but costly mistake. Live and learn, I guess.
If I had the opportunity to go back in the past and change that mistake, I don't think I would. It made me more hungry for Olympic success.
The rest of those games were a total gong show/write off for me. I was 18, done competing after the first day and let's just say that Sydney was mine to discover. I explored, watched tons of competitions, got a tattoo (at Harry's Tattoo Parlor of all places...sounds classy!) and drank way too much beer. I look back at pictures and laugh because I was so young and naive. But I do believe that this was an important experience for me to have. I got to participate in the Olympics and see what the big show was all about...and it was like nothing else in the world!
One of my good gymnastic friends, Igor Vihrov, ended up winning the floor title at this Olympic Games. I had beaten him at a couple of World Cups leading into the competition so it was pretty eye opening for me. I guess it was confirmation that I had potential to win the Olympics. I actually saw Igor right after he won and he let me see his medal. It was at that moment that I decided the title would be mine in 2004. I actually wrote down some goals and plans (big surprise!) in my room at the village that evening and one of them was to become the 2004 Olympic Champion on floor.
Fast forward 4 years and many competitions later: Athens 2004. This is what I like to call my "Dream Come True" Olympics (it was kind of like a storybook)! They were absolutely perfect.
My experience in Athens was the experience that all athletes dream of. I was in incredible shape and I competed well. I had my personal best performances and did it all in the country where the Olympic Games were born. It was my former coach, Kelly, and I's swan song as athlete and coach and as Kelly likes to say, "the stars aligned on that day"!
I was prepared. I knew what was at stake. I knew I needed to be perfect in order to win. I knew what the Games were all about. I knew how exciting they would be, but I wasn't distracted. I was focused and disciplined. My "experience" Olympics helped me know what to expect.
As I completed my routine in the finals I was on auto pilot. I just turned my brain off and let my body do the work. As I moved through each line I was focused on the finest of details, from my toes being pointed to my landings being stuck (in bounds of course!). When it came time for my dismount I knew I was going to have to fight with everything I had inside of me to nail the landing.
I ran a little slower than normal. 3 running steps, round off, back handspring, double twisting double back. I saw the floor and planted my feet. I grabbed on for dear life with my toes and fought with every ounce of 'competitor' I had. I didn't move. It was electric.
Seeing your name on top of the score board after nailing the best routine of your life is an incredible feeling. It was almost like I was in the dream that I had been dreaming for 16 years beforehand. But it was reality and that took a while for me to accept. I had done everything I possibly could to downplay the pressure inside of my own head. I kept telling myself that it was just another routine. But it wasn't. It was a routine that changed my life and helped me to realize that ultimate dreams do come true.
My family was in Athens as well and that made the experience that much more dream like. They paid a great deal of money to be there for me, but the moment wouldn't have been as special if they weren't there to hug in person right after I peed in a cup!
I felt like the whole package was put together perfectly. Me, in incredible shape, believing in myself and ready to fight like hell. My family, on a vacation and supporting me from the stands. My coach, who coached me from the beginning, and I's last competition together. Greece, the birthplace of the Games. It all brings a tear to my eye right now as I look back and recall that beautiful experience.
It truly was a dream come true.
Now, I am preparing for my third Olympic Games. But as I sit here; I can't come up with a title for them. These games have a completely different meaning. I guess it would be safe to wait until they are complete and the story is told before I define them, but I know that above all else they are going to be rewarding, inspiring, satisfying and fulfilling. I have worked so hard to earn my place on this team and now I am ready to push myself hard through the next 30 days. Gold medal or not, these Olympics might just be the best of the bunch. And that's because of everything I've gone through just to make it there!
With one month left to go, I am so excited about the possibilities!