In honour of today being the one year anniversary of the day we competed in Beijing, I thought that I would post something that I promised, but never delivered.
This post is not complete. I tried many times to finish it with no success. I can remember spending many evenings in Beijing feeling like I should be finishing this off, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. There were even days when I was home from the Olympics and had nothing to do, but the last thing I wanted to do was to relive my Olympic experience. I needed a break from it.
I'm not too sure why I couldn't finish it and I guess it doesn't really matter, does it? If I really wanted to be analytical, I'm sure I could come up with some deep rooted meaning that my avoidance revealed. But when it all comes down to it, I think I just needed some time away from being reflective and trying to dissect everything. And as time passed from this experience, it felt more and more distant and less and less pressing to get this blog complete.
When I read it back recently, there were a few times when I got chills and my bottom lip started to quiver. It brought me right back to the moment...and it was a very special one in my life. One that I will indeed remember forever.
I hope you enjoy it.
August 9th, 2008:
I woke up on this Saturday morning and I was pleasantly surprised that I had slept better than expected. I didn't toss and turn all night as I originally planned, in fact I did quite the opposite. I slept like a rock.
You know that moment in the morning when you open your eyes for the first time and your brain does the quick run through of your day? Usually it's like, "OK, time to get up and get into the shower, but before that I need to have a quick coffee and see what's new and exciting in my email. Hmmm...how much time do I have? Did I remember to set the automatic timer on the brew? Oh yeah, I did, I can smell it. OK, so what is the most important task that I need to get done today? Was there anything that I thought of last night that I needed to do? I should have wrote that thought down. Damn...what was it??? What are my dinner plans? Do I need to take something out of the freezer?".
I'm sure you all can relate.
Well, this morning, I woke up and the first thought that went through my mind was, "Holy s---, we compete at the Olympics today!!!!". I said it out loud and Nathan mumbled, "Wuh you say?" and he rolled over in his bed and put the covers over his head (little bugger always needs an extra 15 minutes). When this thought went through my mind, my heart started to thump in my chest and I got a huge lump in my throat. This was the actual day. How exciting!!!
Our team did a light morning jog outside (this was the most humid day yet and after 10 minutes I thought that I was going to overheat) and then we went in to the Canadian Wellness Centre and did some stretching and conditioning. The rooms were definitely way too small for us to limber up, but we kind of squished each other and made the most of it.
After the morning stretch it was time to start getting into the zone. Olympic time, baby!
I ate my customary competition day bowl of Brown Sugar Frosted Mini Wheats (General Mills is a sponsor of team Canada here, but I brought a box of Mini Wheats from home because they equal total comfort for me on competition day) and had an awesome French press coffee in the Canadian athletes lounge (which is way easier and less stressful than fighting off crazy and pushy java addicts at McCafe in the dining hall).
After breakfast, I retired to my room and started to write out my competition plan and key words that I was going to use during my warm up and routines that afternoon.
We were catching the 1:50pm bus over to the gym so I planned that I would shower around noon, get all of my crap together and then head over to the dining hall to eat lunch and head to the bus from there (the less walking the better!) .
I couldn't believe how fast the morning went by. Before I knew it, it was 12:50pm and I needed to get some food in my belly. So off I went to the dining hall, dropped off my gym bag and headed in for some pre-competition fuel.
As it turns out, I wasn't that hungry. I never am on competition day. I just kind of picked through my food and took random bites here and there. I actually prefer to eat by myself on comp days because then I can be all 'competition day' weird and anti-social without feeling bad, but on this day we had a small group eating together so I kept my head down for the most part and imagined myself doing my routines in my salad...which was very interesting (It kind of looked like a cool salad dressing commercial).
When we got to the gym the aura was intense, much more intense than podium training had been. Everyone had put on their serious face and you could cut the tension with a knife. This is something that I both love and hate. I could sense that a lot of athletes were feeling incredible amounts of pressure which makes me a bit nervous, but it was encouraging for me on the same page because I have always thrived in pressure situations.
When I warmed up I just followed my plan. I ran, stretched and did a bit of conditioning. Then I went to floor and did some basic tumbling. It felt great. Inside I smiled, but on the outside I tried to act nonchalant, casual and relaxed. Sometimes as an athlete you can just tell when you are going to have a good day, and for me this was one of them.
After basic tumbling, I went to vault. In my plan I just wanted to do one simple layout in the warm up gym in order to get a feeling, but not waste energy that I would need in the competition. After doing 1 vault that felt great, I moved to highbar.
Highbar warm up wasn't as phenomenal as I had planned, but I knew that it was just warm up and by the time I actually got to that apparatus in 2 hours time to compete I would be in a totally different head space. Sometimes you have to just accept that your warm up was a little off. You can't stress about it and you just have to keep reminding yourself that when it's time to actually hit your routine then you will be fine.
The second to last event that I warmed up was floor. My plan was to do one of each pass and it went well. I felt fast and smooth on my tumbling and I nailed everything.
The last event that I warmed up was rings, which was our first competition event. I think that the moment I put on my rings grips was the time when it actually set in that I was competing. I looked at the clock and it was 3:41pm. Competition started at 4pm. The countdown was on.
I can remember writing about the time line being 7 months away. I can even remember it being 33 days away, but now, at this point in warm up, I only had 19 minutes left. Whoa. I kept telling myself to take deep breaths. I'm ready. In 19 minutes I needed to unleash the gymnastics beast that I have been harboring inside of me for the past 11 months of preparation!
The moments before Olympic competition are the scariest and most exciting times an athlete can ever experience. You almost see all of your preparation flash before your eyes. You know that regardless of how scared you are you have to go out there and compete. A part of you just wants to turn around and book it out of there, but there is another part that wants to get right into the thick of things. This is where my brain was at. I just wanted to get out there and hit 4 routines...if I didn't decide to run away first!
Warm up ended at 3:50. This gave us exactly 10 minutes to sit there, wait and drive ourselves crazy with anticipation! haha. I tried to get deep into my competition zone and visualize myself hitting my first routine perfectly. The adrenaline was definitely pumping through my veins and my hands wouldn't stop vibrating.
We started on rings. All I wanted to do was to hold my strength parts and swing cleanly for my team. It was my job to start things off right and I knew this would be my role since we started our model trainings. I had tried so hard to make the model trainings feel like the Olympics and now I found myself standing there, waiting to go, and trying really hard to make the Olympics feel like a model training! Funny how that works.
After my quick 30 second warm up, I always turn my back away from the judges and apparatus and try to get centered and in control of my pitter-pattering heart and shaky hands. I take deep breaths, and each time I breathe in I remind myself of my readiness. I try to be as confident, powerful and positive as possible in that moment. I find that this sets me up well for the 'imminent deadline'...the moment the warm up is over and it's time for me to get the party started!
As the quick "one touch" warm up ended, the head judge raised his hand. It was go time.
As Tony lifted me to the rings, I felt very focused.
My routine was a constant counting fest. Back uprise planche - 1, 2, 3. Cross - 1, 2, 3. L-sit - 1, 2, 3. Handstand - 1, 2, 3. Giant - 1, 2, 3. Yamawake, Inlocate, Backuprise Straddle L, point your toes - 1, 2, 3. Press - 1, 2, 3. Giant, hold on to it - 1, 2, 3. Dismount, knees up, see the ground, on my feet, hell yeah!
All of the other guys hit and we moved to vault.
I had been debating whether or not I would compete 2 vaults here. I didn't have much time during the preparation phase to work on my second vault so it was a hard decision to make. Before the competition, Tony and I decided that I would do an easier second vault, but put my focus on nailing the first one for the team.
Before it was my turn to go I stood at the end of the vault and had one thought on my mind, I wanted to take one small hop forward.I ran down -with that damn little camera chasing me again- and felt awesome off of the horse. I had a great block, felt tight in my twist and I knew exactly where I was. I felt the ground beneath my feet and I nailed it. This was one of those Olympic moments you dream of. I couldn't have done this vault any better. It felt amazing! To put it into perspective, in my lifetime I have probably stuck about 100 of those, but only 1 in competition at the 2003 World Championships. Sticking in Olympic competition is the greatest feeling because you know that you couldn't have left the judges with a better impression. You feel like a rock star! It's almost like you're daring them to deduct you. In order to stick on vault you need to be in the absolutely perfect position and I was. To me, this was a moment where it felt like the stars aligned. This was comparable to the feeling I got in Athens when I stuck my dismount. For a few seconds, life was perfect. It couldn't have been better. If I could bottle up that moment and sell it then I would be a zillionaire!
I watched this vault back on the slow mow and at the end of it I noticed myself say (with a little cheekiness), "Yes". I don't remember saying it, but it was fueled by redemption, confidence, pride and excitement all rolled into one. I have done so many vaults in my lifetime, but I am going to remember this one forever.
After the guys were done racking up mad points on pbars, the team headed to my next event, highbar.
I have to admit, this routine was scary for me. I think back to it and I don't remember doing it for the life of me. I turned my brain off. Before the routine I was thinking too much so I just shut er' down and let my body go through the motions that it has done so many times before. The only thing that I really remember was that I was a little far on my def, but I caught on my finger tips (which also made my heart jump out of my chest!) - and just to let you know, this was the skill that I was having dreams of missing. I have to confess that I only missed one of these in the past 2 months and I started to think that eventually I was going to miss again- thank goodness it wasn't in competition because that would have really sucked!
After highbar, it was time for floor.
My mind was racing. I just wanted to do so well. I didn't want to think too much, I just wanted to be present and to do the routine that I knew I was capable of. I could feel the pressure. I could feel the anticipation. I could feel the expectation, but the only thing that I could control was my performance and so I tried my best to focus on that and only that.
After our warm up I tried to venture into my own little world. I stared at the floor and blocked out every noise possible. I could hear the crowd roar when China went, but I pretended that it was for team Canada and it was just part of the flow. My heart was thumping in my chest. My mouth was dry. My brain was racing, but I was able to control it. My legs felt strong, but equally weak.
After Nathan finished his routine it was my turn to go. Kyle = mission man. I think I am a little scary in the moments before I compete. Cracking a smile is impossible. My teeth chatter with anticipation, my eyes basically become crossed with intensity, energy rushes through every ounce of me. Time almost slows. You need to be so ultra focused. And I was.I stepped up to the podium and took a deep breath. The green light came on and it was time to compete.
I saluted the judge and reminded myself that this was the moment that I had been preparing for. I was ready.
My first pass was a blur. All I could think during the skill was "bend your legs on landing"!
Second pass: smooth as butter.
Third pass: I was talking to myself the whole time. "Whip, 2.5 -you're good, you're good!, Rudi. Sweet!"
Fourth pass: Super clean form and roll out.
I was on overdrive. You move so much quicker in Olympic competition than you ever do in training. I had tons of time left in my routine at this point to show off some of the smaller details.
Fifth pass: Solid. Great artistry!
Before my final pass I had a plan. If I had some time left to stand in the corner and breathe then I was going to go for a double twisting double back rather than the full twisting one that I had been doing in training. As it turns out, I had some extra time so I focused in on the corner of the floor and pumped myself up. I heard the buzzer go which signaled that I had 10 seconds left...
I ran with all my might and pulled off the double double with a step to the side.
I was ecstatic! This routine was the best one that I had done in the entire preparation process. I felt incredibly satisfied.
* I feel it's important to let everyone in on a couple of secrets about this routine. Looking back on the routine right now I have to chuckle because it really was equivalent to the best that I had ever done.
Firstly, My first pass was the 7th one that I had done without a softer landing mat. I did my first one without a mat about 5 days in to arriving in Beijing. It was one of the scariest things that I have ever done, but the relief and satisfaction that I felt when I landed it cleanly were tremendous. I knew deep down that it would come down to this, minimal attempts without a mat, but I knew that I would also be mentally strong enough to handle it.
Secondly, my fourth pass in my actual routine was only the second one that I had done without a softer mat...EVER! I was tempting fate for sure, but I knew that I needed this pass to get a high enough start value to challenge. I learned this pass at the beginning of June and then added it to my routine during our first trial in Edmonton. I have to be honest, my first attempt at this skill without a mat was during our podium training. It weighed on my mind that day, but I knew it wouldn't be a problem during the actual competition day because of the "floating" factor one feels when they compete. It's almost as if you have an out of body experience and you are so ultra focused that nothing can stand in your way.
Thirdly, the double twisting double back was the very first one that I had ever done at the end of the routine that I performed in Beijing. I'm crazy like that. I have always been. My old coach, Kelly, reminded me that when I was younger I used to always throw harder dismounts in competition, but that I always managed to do them cleanly. I guess I felt like I needed to lay it all on the line. If I was going to try and make finals then I would need to do the hardest routine that I was capable of. If I would have done a full twisting double back then I would be down .1 in start value and that could have made the difference. I had done a few double doubles in training at home, but I did a couple during the training here and they felt really good. I knew that I had this skill in my back pocket and I guess I kind of subconsciously decided a few days before the competition that I was going to do this...I just didn't tell anyone.
So there you have it...a couple of small victories secretly embedded into a large one*
After my floor routine, I came off of the podium and couldn't find Susan (my physio) fast enough!
We had had a physio session the night before the competition and I broke down a little bit. It was so overwhelming to think of the journey that had gotten me to this point. I knew that I wouldn't be focusing on this emotional stuff during the competition day so I kind of let my guard down the night before and thanked Susan for everything that she had done to get me to this point. I had many dreams during rehab about the moment when I stepped off of the floor and she was the one that I imagined myself sharing this very special moment with. This, for me, was one of those deja-vu-Ah ha moments you experience when the world seems like it is spinning just as it was intended to.
I was pretty tired after my routine, but I was also very excited and proud. I had done my job and that was all that I could do. I impatiently waited for the score...
As 15.525 came up on the score board I was a little shocked. I expected more for my efforts. I guess I was in a little bit of ecstasy and I was really focused on all of the positive vibes that my brain and body were evoking. I thought that I had done better than that. I felt like my routine was worth atleast a little bit more. But, on the same page, I was happy. I knew that I couldn't go back out there and show it again. I knew that I had risen to the occasion as best I could and I needed to be content with that. Inside, I had a glimmer of hope that this score would hold up and carry me to the finals, but I also knew that there were still some really good guys still left to come and that my chances were slim.
It is so crazy how you can go from the highest of highs and then have your euphoric dream crushed a little bit in an instant...and by something you have absolutely no control over.
* Another side note: Looking back at my routine, the hops and steps that I took were definitely costly. I thought that my first pass had only a small hop, but it was pretty large. The side step that I took on my dismount was pretty big as well. I think those were the deciding factors. Of course, you can't look back and change the past, and I don't think I would, but it just sucks to know that you did your absolute best and it wasn't quite good enough in the judges eyes! *
After floor, I watched my team nail there pommel horse routines one by one. As each guy came off with a hit routine, the energy was infectious. You could see the relief in everyone's eyes when it was all over. We did our jobs.
It's a little sad to look back on this moment because this was the pinnacle of what we had been working towards. We put so many hours, so many routines and so much heart into this competition. We spent the past few months together every single day, working towards this exact moment, and it was impossible to make it's existence infinite. Why couldn't we have just pushed the pause button on the world and shared in the victories together for a little longer than 2 mins? haha. I think we did a pretty good job of capturing the moment and sealing it in our minds forever, but I think it would be so awesome to have the opportunity to revisit that exact moment, with all of the sights, smells and sounds, for just another moment. It was very rewarding and relieving all at the same time.
And that is where it ended.
Of course, I have grown a lot in the last year and realized that this Olympics was a true victory for me as an individual and for the team. I wouldn't change a thing. In fact, I am learning more and more that this was exactly the way that things were supposed to turn out.
What I have learned in the past year about the value of personal victory vs the value placed on an Olympic medal is incredible. It's not a MEDAL that makes you successful or victorious...and that has taken me a long time to wrap my head around and accept. But now that I have, I feel very liberated and free. You are a champion for many more reasons than just being THE best. You are a champion for being YOUR best.
I have been through an incredibly emotional journey over the past year since Beijing. I feel like I have been in a bit of a free fall, trying to figure out exactly what my experiences have meant, who I am and what life has to offer without competitive sport being the driving force behind everything I do.
Some days are brilliant; full of possibilities and optimism. Other days are dark and very much controlled by a feeling of emptiness and filled with questions of what comes next.
Moving forward, I am going to make a diligent effort to continue being real on my blog. I want to continue writing because it's something I love. And a year after competing in my last Olympic Games seems like a really good time to start being analytical, reflective and open about my personal experiences once again.
Happy One Year Anniversary, Beijing! Thanks for the memories and the lessons!