It had been two decades since the U.S. women’s hockey team won an Olympic gold medal, making their recent success at the recent games in Pyeongchang even sweeter. So, what does it feel like to achieve victory after years of hard work?
“It’s indescribable,” forward Kendall Coyne tells SheKnows fresh off her team’s Olympic win. “There’s a lot of mixed emotions: excitement, a sense of accomplishment, how hard we worked for so long.”
Amanda Pelkey, another forward on the gold medal-winning team, says that as soon as the team’s goaltender Maddie Rooney made the final save of the match, it hit her that it was all over. She tells SheKnows she was overcome with joy and initially sat on the bench for a few seconds soaking it all in.
“It’s definitely the happiest moment of our lives,” she says. “We worked up to that moment, and we’re just so overjoyed that we got the success that we earned.”
Both Coyne and Pelkey say they enjoyed their stay at the Olympic Village.
“The experience was amazing,” Coyne says. “All the people in South Korea were so friendly and willing to help.” She adds that the team was really happy they were able to participate in both the opening and closing ceremonies of the games.
Several of the team members were surrounded by family members who had made the trip over to see them play. Pelkey says when they weren’t on the ice, they had some downtime to spend with their families and explore some of the area, adding that her family had “the time of their lives.”
Having familiar faces in the crowd was also helpful when it came to dealing with the mental stress associated with competing at such a high level. To help the athletes cope with that, Coyne says the team works with a mental-skills coach that helped prepare them for the games and the increase in pressure and media attention that comes along with it.
“As an elite athlete, you have to learn how to eliminate those things,” she explains. “The experience of a lot of the players who have already been in the Olympic Games was crucial in helping everyone know what to expect.”
Pelkey stresses that every person on the team has a different way of handling the pressure. Her technique is by relaxing in her room, watching videos, taking deep breaths and writing in her journal to help her focus.
Most of all, Coyne says that it’s so important to enjoy the moment — even if it’s stressful.
“The moment isn’t too big for you,” she says. “We’ve worked so hard to be at the Olympic Games and to enjoy the Olympic Games. We were all there for a reason, and we needed to play like it.”
When it comes to the discipline and lifestyle involved in training for the Olympics, both women say they will be retaining the sense of balance they had during their months of preparation for the games. This includes eating well, sleeping enough and making sure you’re not doing one thing all day long.
But even as they return to life post-gold medal, they will never forget what happened on the ice that day.
“There’s nothing sweeter, standing on the blue line locked arm-in-arm with the national anthem playing in the background, with the medal around our neck,” Coyne says. “We want to inspire the next generation of athletes — especially young women.”