The countdown to Beijing 2022 is well and truly on, with the winter sport season under way, and the Olympics beginning on February 4.
British athletes have enjoyed unprecedented success at recent winter Games, which was arguably kick-started by Amy Williams’ skeleton victory in Vancouver in 2010.
The BAC’s Athlete Engagement Manager, Kristian Thomas, asked Amy for her advice for current athletes, as they navigate the final few weeks and months before the Games.
Kristian: Most winter athletes will have begun their season already – should their attitude towards competition change as there is a Games at the end of the season, or is it key not to focus on that too much?
Amy: For me, the preparation stayed the same. Lots of sports have a world championships every single year, and for us, they were always in February, which is when the Olympic Games are held, so we were used to peaking or changing our training programmes to make sure that we were in the best form of our lives come February. That process was normal for us, but I guess the only difference with an Olympic and Paralympic year is that you might sacrifice some races and results because you’re testing out a new piece of equipment, but ultimately, you just want to practice over and over again the thing that you want to do in that Olympic or Paralympic environment.
Kristian: Being a once in four years event, the Olympic and Paralympic Games bring a different pressure – what would your advice be to athletes regarding dealing with this?
Amy: It’s a tough one – we all know that the Games are the pinnacle, but I think I spent my whole career, with any competition, trying to tell myself that ‘it’s just a race’! Even at the Olympics, at the end of the day you are just doing your day job, and I think that’s the best way of thinking about it. There are bigger crowds and added pressure, but you want to win every competition that you enter anyway, so the Games is actually no different. It’s on TV and you might not be used to that, and there might be a camera right in your face, but plan for that in your head. Ultimately, you are still doing your day job, and you will have had some rehearsal days – you’re doing exactly what you did yesterday or the day before, so don’t do anything differently. Be consistent and forget the outside factors, because they don’t affect your performance.
Kristian: The summer and winter Games are unusually close in the calendar due to the postponement of Tokyo 2020. How can winter athletes use Team GB and ParalympicsGB’s success in Tokyo to their advantage?
Amy: If I was a current athlete thinking about Beijing, I’d be on an absolute high after Tokyo! We all know the best thing about Team GB is that we’re part of a massive family, and whether you’re a summer or a winter athlete, you are part of that one umbrella. No matter what the sport, when you watch someone win medals and do well, that success filters down, and for me it always put a passion and a fire in me to want to go and do the same. So I’d tell winter athletes to really use that; think ‘that could be me’. Equally though, you still need to park it somewhere in your brain and not let it consume you. I’d also advise athletes to listen back to the interviews from Tokyo – it can be really useful to go over what athletes said, particularly this time around with regards to the lack of crowds, and how that affected them. That’s a really lovely thing to be able to listen to what athletes say, both positive and negative, that you can learn from.
Kristian: Athletes that enjoy success in Beijing are likely to come back to increased media interest, and more demands on their time. How did you deal with that during and after Vancouver?
Amy: There was a lot of attention. You come off the field of play and you have to go through the mixed zone, and I remember that first interview with Clare Balding – I was thinking ‘wow, I’m talking to Clare Balding, I’ve only ever seen her on the TV!’. But I just went with the flow, and was myself, and ultimately that’s what I’d say to athletes – just be you. Don’t say what you feel you have to say – be enthusiastic, be positive, express your feelings, whether good or bad, because people want to see that real side of you. If you bring home a medal opportunities will come your way; doors get opened. I tried everything, I gave it a go, but if you want to go back to your sport, it’s still there for you, and you’ll still have your important team around you.