John F. Russell: High Olympic expectations
January 31, 2010
Steamboat Springs — The UCLA Marching Band has a better chance of sneaking into Vancouver, British Columbia, than the members of the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team.
Todd Lodwick and Billy Demong blew any chance of that last winter when they struck gold in the Czech Republic, and Johnny Spillane hasn't helped his case much in the early part of this season with his string of top results.
The Olympics are now less than two weeks away, and expectations for this team are running higher than Dr. Phil's hairline.
But after following the team to Salt Lake City in 2002 and flying over the ocean to Turin, Italy, hoping to watch Todd bring home some hardware, I've learned that expectations can be dangerous, and sometimes having no expectations can lead to greatness.
The perfect example was Travis Mayer's silver-medal mogul run in 2002. In the days leading up to the men's mogul event, the media was busy chasing top U.S. hopeful Jeremy Bloom around the freestyle venue and eating up Jonny Moseley's dinner roll like it was the only item left on a Las Vegas buffet. But Travis flew under the radar in Salt Lake City, and that helped him focus on the things that were really important — turns, air and speed.
The members of the U.S. Nordic combined team will not be able to follow Mayer's blueprint for success. When the team arrives at Whistler Olympic Park for the 2010 Winter Olympics, the athletes are going to have to deal with the attention, the bright lights and the focus that comes with being one of the top teams in the world in their sport. The Olympics will provide the perfect stage for some of Steamboat Springs' top athletes to shine, But the Olympics also can be a pressure cooker, where a minor mistake can measure the difference between success and failure.
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The athletes will need to pack carefully, making sure they have enough clean shirts and socks to last them through the games. But hopefully their suitcase will not be big enough to carry any extra expectations — and they might want to leave a little extra room in case they land the medals they have pursued for so long.
The good news is that for the team's top skiers — Lodwick, Spillane and Demong — these Olympics will not bring anything new.
Sure, the team has all the pieces in place to bring home a medal, but the athletes and coaches understand that nothing is guaranteed at the Olympic Games and that all of the teams competing have the same goal.
The expectations will not matter once the skiers climb out onto the starting bar for the first Nordic combined event at the Olympics. The only thing that really is going to matter is the final results.
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