Marit Bjørgen

Only three women have won ten medals in the Winter Olympics: Russian cross-country skier Raisa Smetanina, Italian cross-country skier Stefania Belmondo, and Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen.

But only Bjørgen is sill sking, and she’s gunning to become the most be-medaled female Olympian in history. A four-time Olympian, Bjørgen started her Olympic career at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, where she won silver in the 4x 5km relay for Team Norway. In Turin at the 2006 Winter Olympics, she battled through bronchitis and stomach pains to manage silver in the 10k classical.

And with age, Bjørgen keeps getting better and better. At the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, she increased her distance by winning silver in the 30k classical, and dominated the shorter races by winning gold in in the individual sprint (1.5k), the individual pursuit (15k), and the 4x5k relay. The 2014 Sochi Games also saw her capture another three gold medals. Whether it was a sprint of 1.5 k of a long haul of 30k, Bjørgen emerged victorious.

Since Sochi, Bjørgen had a baby in December 2015, and maybe her competitors thought she would lose a step or two. But apparently Bjørgen has maintained her winning ways, taking four gold medals at the 2017 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland.

On February 10, 2018, we’ll find out the day after the Opening Ceremonies, in the finals of the Ladies 7.5k + 7.5k Skiathlon, whether Bjørgen makes history with an 11th Olympic medal. I wouldn’t bet against a women who can lift a ship’s anchor.

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Erin Hamlin
Erin Hamlin, women’s luge

I enjoy talking to Olympians, people who have dedicated a good chunk of their lives to unlocking the secrets to even higher performance. The TeamUSA site published this article that shares the insight of American Olympians who have competed in multiple Winter Olympics or Paralympics. The way I would summarize their advice:

  • Learn from Experience and Your Mistakes
  • Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss
  • Don’t Let the Moment Define You

 

Learn from Experience and Your Mistakes

Successful athletes will often view failures and mistakes as positives. Thomas Edison famously responded that he never failed when developing the light bulb. “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Erin Hamlin is a three-time Olympian in the women’s luge at the 2006 Torino Olympics, 2010 Vancouver Olympics and, finally stepping up to the medal podium with a bronze medal at the Sochi Olympics had this to say about failure. “The more bad runs you have, the more ways you know how it didn’t work,” she said. “You can take that and figure out how to do it right.”

Ted Ligety_alpine skier
Ted Ligety, alpine skier

Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss

At some point, you can get too much advice on how to succeed at the Olympics, or in any high-pressure moment. Two-time gold medalist in alpine skiing, Ted Ligety, thinks that it’s important for people to not think too much, and trust in yourself and abilities may be the best advice for athletes stepping on the big stage for the first time.

“I wouldn’t have that much advice for myself,” said Ligety when asked what he would say to himself if he could go back to 2006. “Being a little naïve back then was a good thing.”

Don’t Let the Moment Define You

Oksana Masters
Oksana Masters

 

Oksana Masters is a summer and winter Paralympian in nordic skiing, rowing and cycling, and felt the pressure early in her career. “Oh my gosh, everyone single person is watching, and it’s the biggest race, and if you mess up, it’s over.” But her advice to others would be to just treat the big race as just another training session.

Kelly Clark is a four-time Olympian, who has won gold and two bronze medals in the halfpipe since the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, said that the competition in the Olympics is merely one moment in your long life. “We can get wrapped up in four years of intensity for 30 seconds [of performing on the Olympic stage], and we make it into something that defines us, we make it into a destination,” she said. “You don’t need to make it a destination or something where you need a T-shirt that says, ‘I survived the Olympic Games,’” she said. “Instead, think, ‘I got to do this wonderful sport.’”

Perhaps the most practical advice came from Masters about packing so much clothes for the Olympics. “You’ll never use them.”

Kelly Clark snowboarder

Alexander Zubkov (L) and Alexey Voyevoda
Alexander Zubkov (L) and Alexey Voyevoda of Russia team 1 celebrate on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Men’s Two-Man Bobsleigh on day ten of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Medals Plaza on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Unfortunately for Voyevoda, Zubkov was DQ’ed.

After finishing 11th in the medal standings at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, with a total of only 15 medals and 3 gold medals, Russia made a commitment to do better in their home country for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. In fact, Russia, finished at the top of the medal table with 33 total medals, including 13 gold medals.

Flash forward to 2017, and the table has turned.

After a review of the McLaren report on Russian state-sponsored doping prior to the Sochi Games, the IOC on December 5, 2017, banned the Russian National Olympic Committee from its participation in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. This decision means that no official team can represent Russia, but individuals from Russia can apply to participate in PyoengChang as a member of the Olympic Athletes of Russia (OAR), assuming it can be shown they were not part of the Russian doping machine.

As you can see in these tables from an NBC Sports article, Russia has suddenly plummeted in the Sochi medal tables from first to fifth. In the current standings, the USA is at the top of the overall medal count at 28, while Norway takes the lead in gold medals with 11.

Sochi Medal Rankings Top Five

This may not be the final revision. The IOC could decide to move other competitors up the medal ranks to replace the disqualified athletes. While the possible revisions below are dramatic, they actually would not have any further impact on the top five standings, although Latvia would move up from 23rd overall to 20th, thanks to the addition of 2 bronze medals.

  • Biathlon (women’s sprint): Russian silver medalist, Olga Vilukhina, was disqualified. Vita Semerenko of the Ukraine and Karin Oberhofer of Italy could move up to silver and bronze.
  • Biathlon (women’s relay): Members of the silver-medal winning Russian team, Olga Vilukhina, Yana Romanova and Olga Zaitseva, were disqualified. Norway could move up to silver, Czech Republic to Bronze.
  • Bobsleigh (two-man): Alexandr Zubkov was disqualified and stripped of his gold medal, which was unfortunate for his teammate Alexey Voyevoda, who was not disqualified. In this case, Switzerland could move up to gold, while the US could end up with a silver. Latvia might win bronze in this case.
  • Bobsleigh (four-man): As three of the four members of the Russian bobsleigh team, Alexandr Zubkov, Alexey Negodaylo and Dmitry Trunenkov, were disqualified, again Voyevoda appears to get stripped of his gold without being disqualified. Latvia and the US could move up to gold and silver. Another Russia team could have taken bronze, but they also had disqualified members on the team, which opens up the possibility of fifth place Great Britain taking bronze.
  • Cross-country skiing (men’s 50k freestyle): As written in an earlier post, Alexander Legkov and Maxim Vylegzhanin were disqualified, allowing Russian country man Ilia Chernousov to potentially trade his bronze medal for gold, with Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway and Sergei Dolidovich of Belarus moving up to silver and bronze.
  • Cross-country skiing (men’s team sprint): Like the 50k freestyle, Vylegzhanin’s DQ results in the stripping of Russia’s silver medal. Sweden and Norway could move up to silver and bronze.
  • Skeleton (men’s): Gold medalist, Alexander Tretyakov, was disqualified, leaving the door open for Martins Dukurs of Latvia to take gold, and American Matthew Antoine to take silver. Another Latvian, Tomass Dukurs, finished in fourth so is hoping for a medal as well.
  • Skeleton (women’s): Bronze medalist Elena Nikitina was disqualified, opening the door for a new bronze medalist, Katie Uhlaender of the US.
  • Speed skating (women’s 500-meters): Olga Fatkulina, was stripped of her silver medal, which means that Margot Boer of the Netherlands could claim silver, and Zhang Hong of China could be awarded a bronze.

Julia Mancuso, Lindsey Vonn, Elisabeth Gorgi on the Downhill Medal Podium at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics
Julia Mancuso, Lindsey Vonn, Elisabeth Gorgi on the Downhill Medal Podium at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics
All high performance downhill skiers experience injuries and setbacks and American Lindsey Vonn is no exception.

The three-time Olympian and 2010 gold medalist in the downhill, has had more than her share: season-ending knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and broken knee bone in early 2013, re-injury of the ACL later in 2013, which kept her off the slopes for all of 2014, including the Sochi Olympics, a broken ankle in August 2015 followed by a knee fracture three months later, ending her season, and finally a broken arm in November of 2016, which required surgery. She returned to the slopes two months later.

Forbes Magazine recently interviewed Vonn, sensing that her ability to bounce back from adversity time and again features a mindset common to successful entrepreneurs – one complete with a checklist for being resilient. And while high-performance athletes and serial entrepreneurs may appear to push this mindset to levels beyond the average person, there are powerful lessons for us all in this interview. Here is the list of Vonn’s 7 Strategies to Bounce Back From a Setback Even When It Feels Impossible. This is shortened, so go to this link for more:

  1. Prepare: The key to the comeback lies in the consistent, intentional training in advance. Develop personal training routines to keep yourself sharp, strong, and prepared for the next challenge.
  2. Internalize the lesson: If you are feeling stuck, reflect on the lessons hidden in the situation.
  3. Harness pressure to your advantage: Failure can be scary, but Vonn leverages fear to propel herself forward instead of paralyze her progress.
  4. Keep an open mind: Your brain is wired to keep you safe, which is why a setback can trigger stress and strong urge to fight or flee. If you feel stuck and blinded by your current situation, create emotional distance, gain perspective, and see if there are any creative solutions you may have missed.
  5. Define yourself: The story that we tell ourselves becomes who we are. Setbacks can be a catalyst for a new self-narrative that holds you back.
  6. Visualize: During stressful situations, the mind releases cortisol, which inhibits creativity. Practice mindfulness to quiet the mind and imagine a brighter future. Paint the mental picture with crystal clarity.
  7. Keep moving: Approach each situation as an iteration to learn from for the future.

 

Lindsey Vonn
Lindsey Vonn

From a personal and leadership development perspective, there are a number of nuggets of wisdom here: the importance of a development routine to maintain focus, the ability to see ways to improve when you’re doing poorly and when you’re doing well, facing fear and pressure by visualizing the joy and glory of what is possible.

I believe that great leaders, above all else, have an incredible sense of self – one’s strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and most importantly where one has come from and a clear view of where one wants to go. The more self-aware a person is, the more likely that failure, as she said, will not define you.