Appreciating the skills of our Olympic athletes

As a competitive runner I love watching other athletes compete at the top of their game. Watching top level runners is one of my favourite things because I can understand exactly how good they are relative to me, and it gives me a huge sense of awe and appreciation of their abilities. For example, in the 2012 Olympic final in the Women’s 5000m, all 15 runners ran between two and two and a half minutes faster than I ever could. Finishing place aside, I love watching that level of athleticism and think every one of those athletes are amazing. I want to take that same approach to my viewing of the winter Olympics starting this weekend. I know these athletes are the best in the world, and in order to fully appreciate just how good they are, I like to picture myself doing their sports. Luckily I have a little bit of background or experience in some of them so I have some sort of reference point.

Hockey
I actually played hockey competitively and quite seriously until University. I got as far as I did because I could skate. I could back-check like crazy and was always able to put myself in the right position at the right time. However, once the puck landed on my stick it was another story. I could never make it go where I wanted it to and often ended up giving it to the wrong team. These Olympic hockey players combine the skating skills and power of speed skaters and figure skaters with the eye-hand coordination and precision of archers. I am in awe.

Hayley Wickenheiser putting it all together

Hayley Wickenheiser putting it all together

Cross-Country Skiing
This is another sport with which I have some familiarity. I cross-country ski raced for a number of years, and started to think I might be good when I came first in the City Finals in high school. However, once I made it to the Provincials, I realized that coming from an urban centre, I had just risen to the top of a very small pool by virtue of being a competitive runner who owned a pair of skis. It turned out that “real” cross-country skiers weren’t just runners who were coordinated enough to compete on skis. These were hardcore athletes who trained year-round for this sport, and reached a level of fitness and skill I’d never seen before. I went from first-place in my city to fifty-something in my province. These top level athletes deserve a huge amount of respect.

Aerobic beast Sara Renner skillfully scaling a hill

Aerobic beast Sara Renner skillfully scaling a hill

Freestyle Skiing
In terms of downhill skiing, I’ve only ever skied recreationally. However, that didn’t stop me from attempting cool-looking aerial moves over any bump I could find. I worked hard at this, and I may be dating myself to admit that my biggest feat was to pull off a Daffy. Actually, I may not have landed it. Most of the time I did Spread Eagles, and about fifty percent of those times they were by accident. Now when I watch the freestyle skiing at the Olympics I can’t even get my head around the moves they are doing. I don’t know any of the names of the moves now, but I am duly impressed.

Jennifer Heil performing ... something amazing

Jennifer Heil performing … something amazing

Bobsleigh
Okay, I have no experience with bobsleigh, but I have tried to push a car stuck in the ice, and let’s just say you wouldn’t want to have to rely on me in such a situation. Also, ever since I turned 30 I have been deathly afraid of roller-coasters. Finally, my six-year old can beat me on video games that involve driving at high speeds. If those three things combined have anything to do with bobsleigh skills I am nowhere close to the Olympic competitors so I will just sit and watch in silent fascination.

Kaillie Humphries finishing a run (I would still be trying to launch my bobsleigh)

Kaillie Humphries finishing a run (I would still be trying to launch my bobsleigh)

Curling
I have tried curling, and I was so bad that I could barely even finish a session even though it involved drinking beer. Hey wait – maybe those two things are related. Regardless, I would put the skills of curlers into the same category of those which I am lacking with a hockey stick. The constant mental discipline and focus required with no aspect of pushing through physical pain makes it a sport which is not suited to me. This is not to say I can’t enjoy watching it – I think just the opposite. I appreciate the different skills these athletes have, and as I watch them compete at the top level I have nothing but admiration.

Fierce, focused athleticism

Fierce, focused athleticism

I plan to watch, cheer on and be inspired by all of the athletes in the games next week. I may not have a full understanding of exactly how hard it is to do what they do or what it’s taken to reach their level in each sport, but the little I do know makes me believe that they are all incredible athletes. Go Canada!

Leave a Reply