|Beckie's Trail Sports Column|
By: Beckie Scott
Having taken the year off of writing my usual bi-monthly 'road reports' for the season, I have to admit I was at a bit of a loss when I first sat down and attempted to try and write a kind of 'year in review' summary. Maybe, rusty, would be a better description. Either way, I quickly realized that in addition to dusting off my computer typing skills for a couple of hours, I also had to somehow capture all that this year was, and continues to be, in one column.
Because this past year was an Olympic year, I thought it might be best to stick to that as my focus and give everyone a little insider's view to the winter Olympics of 2002. And, even though the fall-out from those games has been an on-going process (I can tell you that in the last 2 1/2 weeks I have received, on average, 2 or more calls every day from some form of media interested in the story), this column is going to be dedicated strictly to what went right, what was great, and what we found hilarious about the Salt Lake City Olympics.
For nearly the whole cross-country team going to Salt Lake City, these Olympics would be our second. They were also taking place in a venue not too far at all away from home and in a country where everyone spoke English. The familiarity, comfort-level, minimal travel, and general ease with our surroundings were, in my mind, invaluable contributing factors to the overall performance picture. We had not only raced on the exact same courses we would be racing on at the Olympics many times before, but we had also traveled there in the summer and fall months to train on them in the off-season as well. We knew the altitude would play a huge role at Soldier Hollow and with that in mind, used altitude tents frequently during the training year and spent our final 2 weeks of Olympic preparation in Sun Valley where high altitude, luxury living, and perfect training conditions met.
There was virtually nothing we hadn't prepared for.. unless you include the Team Canada reception that took place a few days before the opening ceremonies in Salt Lake City. That event turned into a bit of a mini-saga as we first had to deal with the complicated logistics of maneuvering Big White (our huge, dilapidated team van) around downtown Salt Lake City, and then (even worse) had to deal with the upturned noses of our Olympic curling team who let us know in no uncertain terms that we had worn the wrong jackets. Oh well. At least the little guy who held the 'Cross-country Skiing' placard as we were marched into the auditorium was happy. (We brokered a deal with him whereby he received an official Roots hat for holding up our sign the highest).
The opening ceremonies came and went, with the majority of the Nordic athletes watching them on the big screen TV in our lounge at the Homesteads (gotta save those legs you know), and then, the games began.
Because the nature of our venue dictated most teams stay at the Homesteads, the atmosphere there was focused on the cross-country and biathlon scene, and our little village took on a kind of 'Skier's Olympics' feel. This was great as nearly everyone there was familiar and when the races began and the results started to come in, we were able to congratulate one another easily. The 'great-big-family' environment also came in handy for occasions such as our head technician Yves' Birthday where we were able to get the entire cafeteria singing 'Happy Birthday' to him. Judging from the reactions and noise levels, I think they also appreciated it shortly afterwards when we socked him in the face with a cream pie and posted pictures of him as a 20 year old (think finger-in-the-light-socket afro with facial hair gone wrong) everywhere.
Racing at Soldier Hollow was one of the best experiences of my life. From the weather, which seemed to be nearly picture perfect sunshine every day, to the friendly officials (who always wished us good luck even though they weren't supposed to), to the great numbers of North American fans and supporters who turned out in droves to ring bells, wave flags and generally make a lot of noise, there was little else we could have wanted. Knowing that there were so many people in the crowds there to cheer for us and lend support was just an exceptional feeling and one that I don't know we will ever experience again.
The morning of February 15th brought more of the same great weather and good feelings from the crowd. I had mapped out my strategy for the 5k classic portion of that day's event, the same-day pursuit, and had full confidence in our waxing and support staff that everything within their control was going to be done perfectly. I remember that I didn't sleep much the night before that race, but I wasn't tired at all, just ready to go.
When the 5k classic was finished, I did a very quick cool-down and headed back to our trailer for some light massage and a little rest. My two teammates who were also going on to the second half of the pursuit, Sara and Milaine, were already there and we spent the hour chatting, stretching, changing and re-hydrating. Though I could feel the intense pressure and nervousness setting in, I did my best to focus on just getting through that hour and preparing for the next race.
When I think back to that race, the 5k skate, the memories I have of that day come back with almost perfect clarity. I remember that Sara, Milaine, Yves and I stayed close together in the warm-up area, just before the race began, drawing on each other for support and serenity as the crowd grew louder and the emotions climbed. I remember taking one last deep breath before walking to the start line, and I remember thinking to myself just before the clock flashed: 19 and the official's hand was lifted from my shoulder, "this is it."
I remember Torbjorn, Laurent, and Alain doing a tag-team coach's run/scream sprint relay beside me as I closed the gap on the last long uphill so that I was never without someone running and yelling beside me and I remember Justin on the very last uphill pitch before the stadium following me around the corner, going crazy. From there, the last thought that I remember thinking to myself as I rounded the corner for the final sprint was, "Go NOW!!" The rest, as I remember it, consisted of an incredible amount of hugging, crying, jumping around, crying, celebrating, throwing people in the air, and, well, more crying.
The remainder of the day was a blur. After a flurry of interviews there at the race site, we did the flower ceremony (a moment I didn't want to end), and I was rushed home for a quick shower and change of clothes before being packed off to Salt Lake City. Fortunately the COA plans ahead for times like these and I was assigned an official press attaché who took calls, scheduled interviews, and filled me in as we smoked down to the Salt Lake City press center at the speed of light. Once there, I spent the next 3 _ hours in interviews - T.V, radio and print. Justin was allowed to be there for it all, which was great, because by the end of the day I was so foggy from all the happenings that I really needed an escort to get around. We left the press center late in the evening, had a quick bite to eat, and then made our way over to the medals plaza.
Once there, that night's medallists and a variety of dignitaries were shuttled from Green room to Green room as the medal ceremonies drew nearer. When it was our turn, we were escorted to the back stage of the medal plaza and given stage directions as to what order we were to walk out in, when to stop, where to stand, etc. Terribly worried that I had somehow misunderstood my stage directions in all the flurry of activity and was about to be the only person in the history of the Olympics to stand in the wrong spot for the medal ceremony, I was very relieved to see the big bronze dot behind the podium indicating where I had to stand.
And the moment, when it came, was one that I will never forget. Looking into the crowd, (well, actually, my attention was grabbed by a certain group of women skiers wearing Canadian flags as capes yelling my name), I saw, heard, and felt the enormous roar of enthusiasm and support coming my way. In a word, it was just...wow.
My life since that day has taken on a whole new dimension. I don't think I actually knew the meaning of the word 'busy' before the Olympics and can now say that I am quite familiar with the term. Interviews, speaking engagements and appearances are the norm these days and I regularly receive letters and emails from people who just want to say congratulations. My hometown of Vermilion hosted a special day with a parade and ceremony, (that was so incredible that I could write a whole new column about it alone), and then there are the 'regular' life activities that have to be fit in around all the new additions to my agenda. I have to admit that there are occasional days when I get a little tired, but those days are few, and it is then that I take the time to remind myself of why the attention is there. I guess if spending a few extra minutes on the computer, phone, or with a reporter is part and parcel of achieving an impossible dream that has been chased for the past 10 years or so, then, I think I can handle it.
I would like to say a very special thank-you to everyone who has written letters, emails, called, or just stopped me on the street. The out-pouring of support and congratulatory sentiments has been more than I ever could have imagined. A very special thank-you also to my sponsors; Madshus, Salomon, Briko, Crawford Adjusters, King's Husky, Lemoine Group, Swan Group, Panorama resort, and last, but not by any means least, the good folks at Trail Sports.
See you next year!
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