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Otherwise, we’re all in a ‘pack-up, commiserate and celebrate phase’. It’s not time yet to get into a serious review of everyone’s performances; it’s time to relax and enjoy the Olympic environment!
For those continuing on as athletes, a once a year ‘transition’ phase, involving just mild exercise, fun stuff and time away from the main sport, is important to help remember why we do it in the first place.
They say 4th is the worst place to finish at the Olympics. I’ve finished 4th before myself and then finished 3rd in the next Games. And, indeed, there is a massive contrast. A medal speaks a lot for itself. But still, 4th is better than 5th and 6th, etc.
There are lessons to be learnt about yourself no matter where you finish in terms of how you handle yourself and how you deal with those around you who have helped you along the path to that major goal. My girl gets full marks all around.
The format of many sports is such that an athlete can have a significant set-back early in the event or game, leaving him or her staring at a big defeat before getting half-way through.
It might just be a little bit of bad luck combined with a bad decision or two and suddenly it seems the game has gone from your grasp. It can even leave you in a state of shock - ‘how could the one event I’ve been preparing for for years be going wrong?’
It seems to happen to sailor Ben Ainslie at each Olympics. In both the 1996 and 2000 Olympics he finished in the 20s in the first race. Then in 2004 he scored a first race DSQ in Athens. Here in Qingdao, for the Beijing Olympics he had his best first race, a 10th - another relative dud.
But he finished with Silver, Gold and another Gold in Athens. Tomorrow, with little doubt, he’ll win again.
What should an athlete do after a crap start to his or her event? The range of things athletes do do covers the spectrum - some give up and go through the motions for the remainder of the event and some try to re-focus and battle on but doubts creep in and the next bit of bad fortune is terminal.
It takes significant mental toughness to overcome a set-back early in an event. Athletes have to draw deeply on their experience and training to firstly establish whether their is a significant problem with their performance that needs to be corrected. Often this isn’t the case - skills and abilities don’t disappear overnight, but the focus to execute those skills might.
Athletes, like Ainslie, who do end up performing to their potential after an early set-back know deep down that they are the best and they let their training do the work. Nothing changes.
We’re deep into the Games now and it’s a really exciting time. There’s so much going on, both within the sport I’m working with now as well at the rest of the Olympic action. The USA v China basketball last night was a ripper and the Aussie swimmers are going well.
Right now, I’m sitting here with another 5 web pages open, refreshing them regularly to follow how our team out on the water are doing. Our team’s results have been a little less than we would have liked till now and that can make people feel the pressure, from management to coaches to athletes.
The athletes are pretty used to this though and just go about things normally. Multiple Gold medalist Ben Ainslie said it well a few days ago - “Pressure is something you just have to deal with and it doesn’t get any easier, but it is also part of the thrill of competing at the highest level.” Ben went on to say that he probably puts more pressure on himself to perform well than anybody. That way, he’s in control.
I reckon not knowing what is going to happen in a sporting contest makes it exciting - otherwise it would just be maths!
The event I’m coaching for starts tomorrow and I think my girl has done a pretty dam good job of preparing herself. The forecast looks a little sloppy though - light winds - but that’s what we’re here for!
The first sailing races (Finn and Yngling) of the Games are underway on A course, just off the marina here in Qingdao. Yup, it’s a bit like watching grass grow as there’s just 5 knots of breeze.
But in the internet age, we can watch it grow both on TV as well as online! - see right for the link to the BOCOG results pages for Sailing.
Right now in the Olympic sailing city of Qingdao it’s as sunny as any slightly hazy day at home. Meanwhile in Beijing, viability is <1km due to fog or smog. That’s quite normal for Beijing but seeing so much blue sky here is odd for us.
Sailors typically spend more time in an Olympic venue prior to the Games than any other athletes at their venues. Of course, we need to in order to discover specific nuances of water and wind. From the times we’ve been here in the last 2 years we’ve become use to not being able to see further than a kilometer and often much less. It’s odd at first, but you get used to it. It’s just how it is.
There are some specific rules I follow to get ready for a new venue. If it’s as important as the ‘Games, go there a few times in the 2 years before. If you’re going to a hot venue from a cold one, you’ll need at least 2 weeks to allow the body to acclimatize. If there is a significant time zone change, a minimum of 4 days is needed to adjust. If you’re not sure about the food, take some little snacks as back up.
Also, do a lot of research, combining Google, Google earth, travel books and the knowledge of people who’ve been there.
Mentally, I like to keep in touch with home via Skype as well as listening to some favorite radio podcasts. Of course, hanging out with a team of 30 or so Aussies means you never feel too far from home either.
All this is needed to allow the distractions to subside and let the years of training do their job.
I write this from the 20th floor of a 17 story building in Qingdao. Yes, I can fly!
Not… The Chinese probably have a greater obsession with lucky and unlucky numbers than most and so most buildings miss all floors with a 4 as well as the traditional ‘unlucky’ western number 13.
And, of course, you probably already know that the Olympic Opening Ceremony starts at 8:08 on the 8/8/08. Why?, well, the word for eight (八，捌) in Chinese (Pinyin: bā) sounds similar to the word which means “prosper” or “wealth”.
The athlete I’m coaching here drew boat number 44 in the random draw. She really wanted 13! That’s got to be lucky!
No, I don’t really think that. I prefer the sort of thinking that’s made the sayings ‘You make your own luck’ or ‘The harder you work the luckier you get’.
Sailing is a sport where luck can intrude a fair bit more than most sports, due to the unpredictably of the weather. That’s why we do 11 races rather than just one. Good or bad fortune should even out over the competition.
However, to ensure a good ‘Games performance athletes should make themselves good enough so that even on a ‘bad’ day, their performance is satisfactory, compared with his or her competitors. Making yourself ‘good enough’ will take a lot of hard work… and that’s luckier than any number!
Qingdao is putting on quite a spectacular display of lights at night these days. The marina docks are subtly lit, laser beams pierce the sky and whole buildings are covered with moving illustrations of sailboats.
The latter contrasts somewhat with the picture on the water today - the winds were very light, peaking at 5 knots. Quite a normal day really and the feeling with the Australian Sailing Team is great - everyone is fully settled in and looking forward to the start of racing (first fleets start on the 9th).
It’s been a while since a lot of sailors here have done some formal racing and it’s interesting how people go on the first day back after such a break. Personally, I have to really work on getting ready to fire after such a delay. Suddenly, there are a lot more boats on the start line, the courses are just a little bit longer and, of course, someone is keeping score for real.
This is when the motto ‘Train as you compete’ comes into its own. Simply, you’ve got to apply the same focus to training as you intend to racing. Never take training half-heartedly or you will compete the same. (Sports Mind Skill’s mental training tracks on Self-talk in Sport might help).