The Road to Rio: Elite Athletes on the Joys and Hurdles of Olympic Training

Many of the world’s finest athletes — from Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt to American tennis player Serena Williams — publish with WordPress. With the Rio 2016 games upon us, we turn to Olympians, Olympic hopefuls, and elite athletes who have blogged over the past year about the joys and challenges of competition at the highest level and the long road to Rio.

Chelsea Jaensch

South Australian Chelsea Jaensch, who specializes in the long jump, started running when she was 10 years old. Her recent posts focus on qualifying for the Australian Olympic team and preparing for the games. In “Olympic Selection — A Dream Realised,” she writes about dreaming big:

Dreams require action. I first harbored the idea of becoming an Olympian at age 7. We had been scrapbooking articles from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and all I wanted to do was run in front of a crowd and win a medal. Little did I understand how difficult and convoluted the pathway might be to reach that level. As an adult, we lose the freedom of dreaming, and cloud our thoughts with doubts and plausible hurdles that would prevent fulfillment and commitment to the dream. These thoughts are based on our past failures and experiences. We should ask ourselves, if nothing is impossible, what would we achieve?

Chris Winter

Chris Winter is a middle-distance runner and steeplechaser on the Canadian Olympic team, blogging at aptly named Chasing Rio 2016. In a post from last fall, he describes the pressure that grows in the months before the games:

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Like a black hole, the Olympic Games seem to have a gravitational force that sucks everything towards it and the closer you get to it the quicker time seems to move. As the Games draw closer, expectations increase, the spotlight intensifies, and the pressure builds. For some this is the pressure that’s needed to achieve greatness — for others it proves too much and causes them to crack. In the next 12 months the Olympic dreams of some athletes will be fulfilled, while others left off the team will be faced with a decision — retire, having missed out on a lifelong dream or, push on for another four years in hopes that things will be different next time around.

Meghan O’Leary

Meghan O’Leary is part of the 2016 US Rowing Olympic team (Women’s Double Sculls). In May, she blogged about crossing the finish line in the US Olympic team trials and how a dream became a reality:

Visit USRowing on WordPress, which is the home of the US Olympic and Paralympic teams.

I’ve struggled to put this post together over the past two weeks, part in because of the chaos that ensues after you make the Team, but mostly due to the residual disbelief that has lingered. It hasn’t fully sunk in that I’m headed to Rio later this summer and will have the honor to represent the United States on the World’s biggest stage. It hasn’t hit me that less than six years ago, I went out for a learn-to-row session at a small community rowing club only to have it change my life forever. The little girl that wrote down as one of her goals for an assignment in the second grade, “to be an Olympian when she grew up,” is still pinching herself to wake up from a dream.

Photo via Meghan O'Leary, "Once and Always an Olympian"
Photo via Meghan O’Leary, “Once and Always an Olympian

Megan Kalmoe

Another rower on the US Olympic team (Women’s Quadruple Sculls), Megan Kalmoe blogs about rowing, being an athlete, and other personal musings. A few weeks ago, she published a viral post in response to the negativity around the games, particularly the media coverage around the water quality in Rio:

The people of Brazil have opened their country and their hearts to the global community to engage with us during this incredible event that will bring people together from every corner of the earth to celebrate humanity on a truly basic level. And the best we can do, our media can do, is insult them and try to make them feel ashamed of who they are and the work they have done to bring us all together.

This is incredibly frustrating to me. It’s frustrating because I feel only gratitude and appreciation for the nation of Brazil and the city of Rio de Janeiro for taking on this now thankless task of hosting the 2016 Olympic Games. I want other people to share this feeling of humility and privilege that I feel being a part of the US Olympic Team.

Photo courtesy of Megan Kalmoe, "Stop Trying to Ruin the Olympics for Us"
Photo via Megan Kalmoe, “Stop Trying to Ruin the Olympics for Us

Gracie Elvin

Gracie Elvin is a road cyclist on the Australian Olympic team who has raced in 12 World Cups and two World Championships in cross country mountain biking. On her blog, she thanks her dad for helping her get to Rio, her first Olympic appearance:

Since I chose cycling as my sport, dad has been there alongside me. He set up an old road bike for me and I was hooked. My next bike was a heavy old thing but he always insisted “It’s not about the bike. A great rider can win on any bike. If you’re good enough, one day someone will give you one for free.” When it came to dreaming big, he told me I could be the best in the world if I did it the right way. When it came to the Olympics he told me that it was possible but it was just one race and to make sure I enjoyed every other cycling moment just in case. . . .

The Olympic experience will certainly be incredibly special, but it will also sit alongside the memories I have of us singing to Hendrix and Zeppelin on the way to our favourite climbs. There are a lot of people who I have proven wrong, but a lot more people who I am happy to prove right. This is about them, and me, and dad. I will be quietly humming “Smoke on the Water” when I stand on that start line.

Amanda Eccleston

Amanda Eccleston is an elite American mid-distance runner who blogs about her running journey and training updates. In her post “0.03 Seconds,” she writes about coming in fourth place at the US Olympic team trials and not continuing on to Rio:

There are moments when heartbreak still gets to me, like when I walk into a coffee shop or store with no thoughts of that race at all, and suddenly a TV begins playing a commercial for Rio. It’s hard not to feel a slight stab of pain seeing Olympians and the inspiring music set on the beautiful backdrop of Rio and not wish things had ended just a little differently. But 0.03 seconds doesn’t have to define me. The joy I receive through running and the people involved far outweighs that fraction of a second. I have countless goals left and things I want to accomplish in this sport, and I feel like I’m just getting started.

Photo courtesy of Amanda Eccleston, "An Unexpected Season"
Photo via Amanda Eccleston, “An Unexpected Season

Beckie Middleton

Beckie Middleton, a British hockey player blogging at That Inking Feeling, published “The Story of a Not-Quite Olympian” this spring:

I know this sounds like I’m blowing my own trumpet, but I need to acknowledge that it hasn’t all been doom and gloom — I know I’ve been fortunate to experience some pretty incredible things during my hockey career. . . . But ultimately, I won’t be able to look back and say I’ve achieved my dreams in hockey. . . .

I’m aware that people suffer far worse things in life than not getting selected for the Olympics, but this is where words fail me a bit. I can’t really describe how it feels to miss the tournament you’ve given everything for and dreamed about since you were a kid.

Keith Ricks

A professional track and field athlete and 2012 US Olympic trials semi-finalist (200m), Keith Ricks writes about being unable to compete in this year’s Olympic trials due to an injury:

After my coach and I decided not to compete at the Trials, I was not even sure if I was emotionally able to watch the event on television. Not being able to compete is a tough pill to swallow knowing that one of those eight lanes could have been mine. And now, due to my injury I did not even have the opportunity to race. However, being a true fan of the sport and a supporter of my friends that were racing, I chose to watch the event. . . .

I thought about the many more athletes that were at home watching the event because of unfortunate circumstances such as injury, non-qualification, lack of finances to pay for travel, or any other reason that shattered a dream. I know first-hand the sacrifices and hardships many of those athletes had to endure over the past four years.

Photo courtesy of Keith Ricks, "Years of Diligence as an Olympic Hopeful"
Photo via Keith Ricks, “Years of Diligence as an Olympic Hopeful

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August 4, 2016Sports, , ,