At the World Junior hockey final this week we saw a glimpse of the kind of expectations Canadian athletes will face at the rapidly approaching home Olympics.
Pressure is a demon that needs to be dealt with.
Real or imagined, anytime a significant number of Canadians wrap themselves in the flag and attach themselves to the fortunes of athletes who wear the Maple Leaf, huge pressure ensues. You could see it tattooed on the faces of the young men who fell to the United States thus halting a hockey run of dynastic proportions.
Scott Moir, a Canadian gold medal hopeful in figure skating with his partner Tessa Virtue, watched the game in Ann Arbor, Mich., beside his rival and training mate, American Charlie White, a man who had narrowly beaten him at the recent Grand Prix Final in Tokyo — the major international tuneup prior to the Olympics.
“The only thing worse than watching those guys’ heartbreak was hearing Charlie’s celebration,” Moir reflected. “Pressure is not always an easy monster to tame.”
So how will Moir, who is only 22, deal with the immensity of all those people counting on him to come through on Pacific Coliseum ice?
“I like to look the beast right in the eye,” Moir explained. “That’s the beauty of sport. I know I have done everything to prepare myself for that moment a million times over and I must execute. I will execute!”
Perhaps comfort comes with an athlete knowing he or she has the talent and fitness to reach peak performance at the moment the competition occurs. It is also a matter of focus.
“Healthy experienced athletes that are favourites to win are typically immersed in process and not outcome,” noted 1998 Olympic bobsleigh gold medallist, Dave MacEachern. “Confidence from past success creates a great place to hide when the heat gets turned up at big events.”
For the more than 200 athletes who will fly Canadian colours at home in Vancouver and Whistler there is another consideration. As it was with the junior hockey team in Saskatoon, somebody from another country might be better qualified to win.
“For the record, I think the Canadian juniors lost to a team with superior speed and defence, not because of pressure,” MacEachern said.
Sometimes the pressure monster isn’t the one Olympians should fear most.
– Scott Russell is the Host of CBC Sports Weekend seen Saturday afternoons. He has covered professional and amateur sports including nine Olympic games and numerous world championships.