I am one of those people that idolize the athletes of the Winter Olympics. As an American, I understand that the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, and the World Series are chances to come together, see great teams play, and blah blah blah. In reality, it’s rare that those sports captivate me. Don’t get me wrong, I love baseball, despite everyone’s insistence that it’s boring, and I could watch hours of it on end. But it’s very rare that it owns my undivided attention the way the Olympics do. And while I romanticize representing my country more than most, that feeling isn’t the reason I love the games (although it does contribute).
Quite simply, I become a better athlete by watching them compete.
Chris McCormack, in his book, “I’m Here to Win” harps on this point considerably. It’s amazing what athletes in their sport can learn from fellow athletes competing in a different event. Whether it’s a certain training exercise or regimen, nutritional habits, or a mindset, there are tangible benefits to watching how others compete and carry themselves.
Let me give you an example. On Saturday, February 8th, the men’s 5,000 meter speed skating event happened. If you didn’t watch it, I strongly recommend you do. The event was swept by three skaters from the Netherlands, with Sven Kramer (power name) dominating the event. The race is very simple; skaters race against the clock, joined on the ice track by one fellow competitor, and take turns skating on the inside and the outside of track. After one 3 hour viewing session, I knew what I was taking away from the race, consistency.
Denis Yuskov, the highest placing Russian at 6th, had an incredible race, finishing in 6 minute, 19 seconds and change. At the outset of the race he was a showcase of power, doing laps in 28 seconds, and setting a blazing pace. The announcers marveled at his strength, deservedly so. But his last lap was over 32 seconds!!! Over 4 seconds separated his first and last lap. The eventual champion, Kramer, was a showcase of consistency; every lap was under 30 seconds. He featured easy power, as it was described by the commentators, and there was almost no difference in his skating from start to finish. Honestly, while watching Kramer, it was hard to tell if he was even working until his heavy breathing after the race.
For as much as I love skill games, Triathlon isn’t one. And while many of my fellow competitors (and I) like to showcase our speed, there’s something astoundingly underrated about an athlete who’s able to find his redline and hold it there for hours while reeling in competitors. A focus of my season has become finding this consistency, and what I’ve found is that few feelings are as gratifying as slowly reeling someone in who went out too fast.
It’s inspiring to see athletes put on their country’s colors and compete for medals. One of my goals in triathlon is to wear a jersey with the letters U S A on it. The stories and the visceral competition make it an absolute joy to watch, but while my heart is pounding with joy and anticipation of the finish, my head is telling me to learn from the best in the world, and apply it to my own racing experience.