Pressure is a funny thing. It can make you or break you, depending on how you handle the heat. But many people assume Olympic athletes are above all those pesky nerves, doubts and anxieties that normal commoners (like, uh, us) experience. Obviously, the pressure doesn't get to them because they're competing at the highest levels of their sports, right? Well, right and wrong. Athletes are human — even if they're basically superhuman — and the reality of what they're doing and what's at stake doesn't escape them.
So, what thoughts do run through Olympic athletes' minds as they arrive at the Village, prepare to compete or wave to their adoring fans as a gold medal is placed around their necks? We asked two-time Olympic medalist and the new #LoveOverBias ambassador Michelle Kwan. This is what she said.
If you're good enough to make it to the Olympics, then you don't have to worry about anyone else.
"I didn’t really pay attention to what they were doing... I think that people find that shocking," Kwan exclusively told SheKnows. "I know where I stand. I definitely know if I were to do a clean performance making no mistakes where would I place in this competition compared to the rest of the skaters or the other Americans or the Chinese skater or — I always knew, ‘If I bring it, I can win.’ So I didn't spend much energy in that direction."
Everyone's different, of course, but most Olympic figure skaters likely have the same mindset. They don't need to see what everyone else is doing for their routines — they know what they have to do, and they just focus on that.
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You know when you're doing something really nerve-wracking and you suddenly realize you haven't really taken a breath in a while? Yeah, so do Olympic figure skaters.
"You’re always in your head," Kwan said. "You’re always thinking through the program. The tough part was when you say, 'Breathe!' That’s all you’re telling yourself. 'Breathe.'"
Of course they're thinking about the Olympic Village. Heck, we're all thinking about the Olympic Village and wondering what kind of, uh, activities are going down there.
"The Olympic Village is where everybody from all over the world is united in this incredible space, and you are just kinda [going] gaga," says Kwan. "It's like, 'This is the University of Olympians.' There’s entertainment and people are hanging out. There’s a lot to take in. And then, there’s meeting friends and meeting people from other parts of the world... When I was in the Village, I was like, ‘Wow! I’ve never hung out with bobsledders. I’ve never hung out with downhill skiers.' So it was this incredible opportunity to meet people who are the best in their sport."
Luckily, where to find condoms (should they need) them isn't much of a thought. Especially not this year — they're literally everywhere.
This is a no-brainer. The world is watching. They're wearing their country's colors and letters. Of course they think about making not only their friends and family, but their entire country proud.
"I remember how proud I was to put on that gear and pick out the opening ceremony [outfit]," Kwan said. "It's just like, 'Wow! Here I am. I made it. All these years dreaming and now I’m putting on this uniform and representing the United States.'"
That has got to be surreal.
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"The difference between a good athlete and a great athlete [is] in the details," says Kwan. "Things from what you’re eating to getting the rest that you need to every little thing of how you can adjust and how you can be in the best shape of your life at the right time... it’s pretty intense. It really is a breakdown of every little thing, and there’s no detail that’s left uncovered."
Hey, the little things make big things happen, right? Oh, and you can't forget, you are what you eat! OK, that's enough inspirational, cliché quotes for now.
All athletes need time to decompress and conserve energy between events.
"It’s [about] getting in that state where you’re really rested. Yes, you have the strength in your legs — but it's [about being rested] physically and mentally."
Not everyone decompresses or relieves anxiety the same way, though.
"I always find this interesting," Kwan says, "because there are so many different athletes and how they prepare... [I've] analyzed this over the years. We have the athletes who are very chitchatty, very talkative, but that’s how they express their nervous energy. They have to be bubbly, always bouncing around. Some stretch — they’re always jumping around warming up. Then you have the athletes that have headphones on [and they're] in their own zone. [There are] other athletes who are meditative, [and do the] visual thing."
Which one of these athletes was Kwan? "I was more under the ladder. I was the very quiet athlete who kept to myself [and] visualized what I needed to do."
Moms — they really make the world go 'round, especially for Olympic athletes. While competing, many Olympic athletes are trying to win gold for themselves and their countries, but they also want to take home the gold for their moms.
"My mom was there from day one," Kwan says. "But I look at my career — the competing and traveling all over the world since the age of 13 to 26 — and still to this day… When I was a kid, she was sewing on sequins because we couldn’t afford a costume. They were so expensive. But [she] would be up in the wee hours making my costume. She was always my shoulder to cry on. She was my rock. She was my ‘she-ro.’"
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That's why Kwan — with her Olympic skating days behind her — is partnering up with P&G for their latest Thank You Mom campaign called #LoveOverBias. She's one of the many athlete partners bravely sharing her experiences of facing bias and adversity in sports as well as how they overcame these obstacles to achieve their dreams.
"It’s something that I’m very proud to be a part of," Kwan explains. "It’s an opportunity for me to be able to thank my mom. This campaign hits home for Olympians, for athletes, of course, because of all the adversities they’ve faced," Kwan explains. "I think of my mom, not in the Olympic stuff sometimes, but more like when I scratched my knee – my mom scooping me up and taking me to make sure that I didn’t need stitches or when I didn’t do so well on a certain test, she was there for a shoulder to cry on."
The Winter Olympics are live beginning Feb. 8 on NBC.
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