YOG Blog: Amazing memories and lessons learned from a roller coaster couple of weeks at Gangwon 2024
There’s a cliché that sports are a roller coaster with their ups and their downs.
Building off of that, I’d say that the Youth Olympic Games are a bit like Disneyland for athletes. It’s an environment that can be stimulating, but also mentally and emotionally draining. It’s electric and exhausting and, for all of these athletes, being at Gangwon 2024 will be a core memory.
In the words of flag bearer Chloe Fediuk following the Opening Ceremony: “I loved every minute of it.”
Even for athletes who have competed internationally, it’s such a different environment when you’re at a multi-sport Games and you’re part of a broader Team Canada, capital T, capital C.
There are so many choices to be made in the aim of supporting performance. What time should I go to bed? What should I eat in the dining hall? Should I take a nap or go watch some other sports or hang out with friends? For sure, there were plenty of friendships formed in Gangwon as athletes traded pins and pieces of their competition kits!
But athletes also make choices about how they decide to respond to a competition or performance that didn’t go their way – when the conditions weren’t ideal, when their equipment malfunctioned, when a call went against them, when their competitor had the performance of their life.
Even when you come in the most prepared you’ve ever been, some things are outside of your control and the choices you make in how to respond to them matter.
I was so impressed by the bravery of all the athletes who picked themselves up after making a mistake and kept going. Team Canada’s Closing Ceremony flag bearers and pairs figure skaters Annika Behnke and Kole Sauve are a perfect example of that. They had a slip before a key element, quickly corrected it, and won gold. It’s inspiring because it’s real – we all make mistakes but it’s what you do in the next moment that matters.
Another memorable moment was watching freestyle skier Charlie Beatty win gold in big air after his disappointing 10th-place finish in slopestyle. Under the pressure of not just being at YOG, but also being an Opening Ceremony flag bearer and a medal favourite receiving lots of media attention, he rose to the challenge of performing after what many would call a failure. It was so touching to see him with his coach, Geoff, who has known Charlie since he was six years old. It was a reminder that no athlete achieves success on their own.
That same day, there was no missing the pride on snowboarder Eli Bouchard’s face as he listened to the national anthem played in his honour for his own big air gold. His coach, Quinn, told me that gold was the goal after a slopestyle silver two days earlier and Eli just went for it.
I always kept a journal throughout my career, but I wish I’d done even more reflection, especially during the tough moments. I hope Team Canada’s Youth Olympians take the time to write down how they feel, because the athletes who become champions are the ones who make a point of taking what they can from these experiences and drawing out the lessons from their adversity.
I felt sad watching our curling teams, not because I was disappointed in their effort or performances, but their results brought back memories of my own disappointments in that same building. I know they will learn a lot from the experience. I certainly did from mine.
I saw ski cross racer Cole Merrett have great performances in four of his five heats, but miss out on advancing to the semifinals because he had fallen in his first heat. However disappointed he was, he went to his parents and posed for a photo with a sign his sister Morgan had made. It was a great moment of grace, even in defeat.
Here are a few learnings that I’ve been reminded of during these Games. They’re also good learnings for life. Which is another reminder of why we cherish sport – because of the values it can help instill in us as people, when done right.
- Control what you can, but accept that you cannot control everything. Meet the factors outside of your control with courage and kindness.
- Remember that you can choose your perspective. Instead of dwelling on what went wrong, view it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Focus on the positives and celebrating what went well as much as you do on what could be improved. Even the best athletes in the world don’t win every competition they enter.
- Ask for help when you need it. Nobody gets to the top on their own. Regardless of whether you play a team sport or not, every athlete needs a trusted team to rely on.
- Enjoy the journey. (Okay, okay, it’s another cliché! But it rings with truth!). It’s important to embrace the moment, to have fun, and to enjoy what you do and who you do it with.
Lugers Ava Lucia Huerta and Maya Yuen embraced that last point. They were the first Team Canada athletes to compete in Gangwon. With smiles on their faces, they waited at the bottom of the track to hug and congratulate all of their competitors. They told me afterwards that it sparked something in them to keep training so they might go to the Olympics some day.
I loved being among the crowds of parents cheering on their kids. Their pride and love was palpable, never mind the fact that they travelled half a world away to be there. And for those that couldn’t be there in person, there were plenty of text and video updates being sent by the parents who were.
In talking to athletes after their performances, whether or not they achieved their goals, I heard so many of them say how this experience has made them want to continue to push for their dreams, to train hard and try to make it to the next level. I look at them and see unlimited potential.
You never know where your sport journey will take you. For years, Eve Muirhead was an on-ice rival as the skip of the British women’s curling team. But when we reunited in Gangwon – where she was Team GB’s Chef de Mission – we were peers and friends. That camaraderie between competitors from all nations is what makes the Olympic environment so special.
I hope this experience teaches Canada’s Youth Olympians many lessons and serves them in their sport careers to come, and their lives far beyond sport.