Saturday, November 22, 2014

What an Experience

Three weekends, three international short track events. That has been my life so far this month of November.

Making my first world cup team was awesome but it was always a means to an end, something I expected to allow me to compete at the next level. Going into those first two world cups I had no expectations because I had never done it before. I wasn't sure how it would go.. especially because this sport is dictated so little by speed and so much by racing strategy and tactics. I've been in the sport for four years and in the US we don't have a great racing series to continue developing up and coming talent which means in those four years I've only competed in 6 events against athletes that were traveling to world cups to compete.

Through two world cups I've had a little bad luck and a little bad of everything else. At the first world cup my blade was broken off of a start by another competitor. It's not a common thing to occur but it really sucks. Our relay had a little bit of lady luck on our side in Salt Lake though and we took home a bronze medal in the 5000m relay! It is of course great to earn a world cup medal in my very first event.
In Montreal I was trying to fix a few technical mistakes I made in Salt Lake, but while trying to do so I actually forced a few more technical errors on myself that I didn't even realize. The bad luck didn't stop in Salt Lake though. My first event in Montreal, the 1500m, I was scheduled to be in the very last heat (I think heat 10) and the heats take so long that when heat one skated I still had shoes on. Well, there was a change of heats and we (USA) missed the communication so my heat was changed from heat 10 to heat 2. I realized I was in heat 2 once they got on the ice. I slipped my skates on and competed against three Olympians with my skates completely untied.. Not a recipe for success on that one. Montreal was pretty much downhill from there. Without going into to much detail it didn't go so well. By the end of Montreal I was beyond frustrated. I was ready to get home and not ready to race again a few days later.

When I got back to SLC we trained twice Wednesday and it was a pure basics day for me. Getting help from my coach to point out the technical errors that shouldn't be there, and skating to fix them rather then trying to go fast. Thursday we were suppose to skate at the sight of the Apolo Ohno Invitational that would take place Friday night but some technical difficulties cancelled our ice time so it was back to the basics again Thursday to continue working out the technical kinks off the ice. Friday was a jam packed day for us. Practice ice session in the morning, followed by lunch provided downtown, back to the arena to warm up and then to skate our quarterfinals to get down to semi-finals that were showcased during the event. Then it was go-time.

The Apolo Ohno Invitational was a great experience. It was a completely different feel then a world cup which made it a little more relaxing. It was an incredible field which allowed me to race very, very great athletes again and learn more. And it was on television so it got our sport showcased and allowed people back home the chance to watch me compete which is always nice. More importantly if gave me another chance to renew some confidence I lost in Montreal and prove to myself that I could quickly fix a few errors or bad habits created during the prior two weekends of racing.

I skated so much better this time around then last weekend and although individually I didn't qualify for an 'A' final only one person did that wasn't an Olympic Medalist and that was my teammate. In the relay our incredibly young and inexperienced team pulled off a second place finish after a fall and a penalty to other countries. One of the craziest things in the relay for short track is how bad the ice gets. It is a little difficult to explain if you haven't experienced it but by the end of a 5000m relay the ice is chopped up and has ruts in it they you can get stuck in and lose a lot of your speed. These ruts make your blade jump from where you want it to be and where it ends up being which is why the event has so many falls. The catch is the ruts are created by so many laps and skaters skating in the same place on the ice, generally exactly where you want to skate in order to go fast so by the end of the relay you are skating a different track on the ice then you normally would to avoid the ruts.

To finish up the Apolo Ohno invitational renewing a little bit of my confidence is huge for me heading into the next two weeks of training and then two weeks from today I will be on my way to Shanghai to do it all over again!

Lastly, I started short track four years ago so, after Apolo had retired from the sport of short track. I had never actually met him before but I know so much about him as a competing athlete and a training athlete as we share the same coach. It was great to finally meet the guy that we are always trying to measure up to in our training sessions.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Reflection Day

"My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure."

When I get ready for a race our training gets a little easier so we can all taper and hopefully perform well. This means I have more time on my hand. And I always end up looking into the past. I do it for multiple reasons. Sometimes I am just looking to remember what held me back before so I can avoid it this time around. Sometimes I want to see exactly how far I've come or what my mindset was the time before. This is as much for me as it is for anyone else to read.

With all that being said, Tuesday I leave for my first world cup trials after the Olympic trials. Last season was pretty taxing on my mentally and I wasn't sure this was something I wanted to keep doing. But I understood myself well enough to know I wouldn't be able to live with walking away just yet.

Heading into this week I am fully aware there are five US Olympians that are not competing, but that is outside of my control. What has been in my control, the last five and a half months of torturing myself for my failures, in order to keep the complacency at bay. The last five months of training while constantly reminding myself of the failures that occurred just last season. Reminding myself there is no redemption. Four years from now I can try to redeem myself but until then I live with the burden of failure.

Realistically, this season is all about experience and gaining ground. Instead of an Olympic year where you take what you have and go with it, this season is about creating something you don't have. If you can lay the ground work now to improve drastically you set yourself up much better. Then of course, the last couple years I have been trying to learn on the fly. Trying to develop the skill in a season or two that the people I was aiming to beat had years to learn. Now, especially with some of them taking time off, this is the perfect opportunity to gain some of that experience and skill and learn.

As of right now, I am the oldest male athlete signed up to skate trials (or within a few months of the oldest).  I am only 23 years old. That kind of shows how young we are and how much we all have to learn.

Backtrack four years ago and I had yet to move to SLC. I knew I was about to but I didn't get here until after the world championships in November. Coming out here I had pretty realistic goals for myself. I wanted to learn as much as I could the first half season. The first full season I just wanted to race trials and hopefully learn something in the process. Following that the goal was to gain some experience the following season and hopefully finish top 5 in the final race. The next season I wanted to win the Am Cup series and I thought if I could do that I would put myself in a position to be competitive at Olympic Trials. Looking back, I qualified for trials in my first month in SLC, the next season I finished 3 at Am Cup Final, the next two seasons I won the Am Cup series and barely missed each world cup team. I went into Olympic trials with a legitimate shot at making the team, not a favorite by any means but I would be in the mix.

But what hurt was getting so good so fast and then stalling out because of the lack of racing skill and experience. Don't fool yourself there is nothing you can do on a pair of wheels that gives you any experience for pack racing on ice.

It's been a long journey so far. And with four years to come it's only going to be harder and longer. But I've been my biggest critic and now as I would expect nothing less, I am going into a race week feeling better than I ever.

The success is nothing without the journey. The struggles of today make tomorrow's victories vindicating.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why I Want Shani Davis to Win

Before I even get started on this there are a few things I have to explain. I've ALWAYS put athletes on some sort of pedestal. I always thought that those that could achieve so much must have 'it'. I've never ever ever been confused as the most talented person, much less the most athletic. With that being said, I think subconsciously I've always thought the same about great athletes: they couldn't just be incredibly gifted and talented they must be gutting and working so unfathomably hard to perform at that high of a level.

It took me a very, very long time to realize it's not always the case. There are incredibly talented athletes that don't need to work as hard to achieve. They generally piss me off because I want them to work harder, to be even greater. Nevertheless, so many times in my life have a seen a skater that I looked up to when I was younger and surely thought they must be the hardest working person in the sport only to find out later that it is not the case. Time in time again I found out they weren't the person I envisioned in my head.

Before I can jump into my rant on Shani I have to explain I am a sports historian, much more a skating statistician. I have always, since I was 12 or 13 looked up decades of results, followed every competition I knew how to find results to. As an inliner I looked up every single result for the US at world championships I could find, individual results, team results, track results, road results.. All of them. I used to marvel not at the fact that Chad Hedrick won tons and tons of medals, but marvel at the margin that he would win point races. I would calculate how many first place laps he must of won. I would look at how many races someone skated at a certain world championships and how many medals they won in those races, how many gold. I would try and create formulas to decide who throughout history should be considered the best.

So when Chad switched to ice I naturally started looking up long track results. By 2006 I was looking up results for every US trials, every world cup, comparing splits. By this time I knew who Shani was. I didn't know Shani, but I knew all about his ability on the ice. I knew his short track background, his alternate status on the short track Olympic team in Salt Lake City in 2002. I knew that he barely ever lost.

He only got better, after the Turino games Shani hit his prime. It's difficult to understand, he is a world record holder. He has the 10 fastest sea level 1000m races ever. He has won sprint championships and all around championships.

My first summer in SLC I found out Shani skates short track all summer long until about July. Then he switches back over to long track and prepares for the season. He doesn't just skate short track, he skates with the National Team every year and he never fails to hold his own at practices with them.

The summer of 2012 was the first time I ever really talked to Shani and it also happened to be the first time I would train with him on the ice. I remember all he did was talk about how out of shape he was at first. We would skate, we would do our dry land, then our cardio. He would tell us how crazy our workout was.. then do it next to us. Laughing and giggling during the really painful parts.

What makes Shani so special, isn't one thing alone. Sure, he trains alone which is incredible for an athlete that has been so dominate to understand so much of what he needs to succeed. To be in tune with your body to the point that you know when and how to train for fast ice or slow ice or how to get just a little faster or improve your endurance just a little and oh did I mention skate with some of the best technique ever.. at least through the turns. But none of that alone makes Shani that special. I remember that summer that he was apparently 'out of shape' we would do our workouts then go inside to cool down or ice and recover. When I would be leaving the oval in my car there was Shani.. working out again.

I don't know if there is a single person that doesn't like Shani. He has such a personality. He can joke around with anyone and it's always funny. He talks to everyone when he's at the oval asking how things are going. He gives everyone a nickname. And no matter how training is going he never gets angry or upset or at least you can never tell.

I want Shani to win because today I was at practice with my phone on the pads. After every set I went and refreshed my phone waiting for the results like I have the past few days. Once I saw Shani didn't win, much less didn't medal I didn't want to practice anymore. I didn't want to be skating.

When I think incredibly gifted-athlete-that-achieves-greatness but trains-even-harder to stay there while being-down-to-earth-and-generally-a-cool-person-to-be-around I think Shani Davis. That's why I want him to win.

Friday, February 7, 2014

History with Present Olympians

I started thinking about some of the speed skaters that will be taking part in the games over the next two weeks. And since opening ceremonies is tomorrow I figured it might be kind of cool to recap some of my memories I have with them. There are quite a few.

First, I guess I will start with Jess and Brittany. I pair them together because my first real significant memory with either of them happened when they were together. My first world team was in 2007. After making the team and everything we had a couple of months before residency. I just remember having never really talked to either of them they were super nice, helpful, and encouraging to me that entire stretch of time. I was 16, they were both on the Senior Ladies team. Then of course there is the fact that I've trained with Jess for almost two seasons now. She's always tried to help me out, having made the same jump from inline to ice 4 years before me and having dealt with some of the same technique issues that I've had with the switch. And then lastly of course, when I think of Jess right now I also think of Mike, her fiancé. Mike was one of my first ice coaches when I moved to SLC for about 6 weeks before he left to coach Germany. The last couple of months he has been back and he helped me with my equipment, strategy, and coaching the entire way through Olympic trials.

Next, I'll jump into Chris Creveling. I probably have the deepest roots with Chris. I grew watching Chris skate inlines as he is about five years older then me. My earliest memory would probably have to be when I was 12 at our inline regional championships I broke Chris' 300m record for the age group I was in from when he was in it in 1998. I went up to him and told him I broke it and he bet me I couldn't break his 500m record as well. I was 12 and when I broke the 500m record it was cool for me to go tell him that too. After that there are various memories throughout the years but I still remember the time we spent skating for MPC and testing wheels and everything.

Next we will go to Kyle Carr. I skated with Kyle when I was just a little kid and he still wore glasses when he raced. I don't have a ton of memories back then but I do remember skating inlines with him again in 2005 in Reading.

From there it's Eddy. My first memory of Eddy isn't even a memory of Eddy. I was at practice one time at the beginning of our training before the 2003-2004 season. Some of our older skaters and I were stretching after our warm-up. They were talking about my chances as I moved up into the next division. They decided I had fair chances, not great but not too bad. Then one said, wait, you have to race Eddy Alvarez.. you are screwed. I didn't even know who he was! Anyway, that year at nationals going into the last final I was in like fourth overall with a shot to get a medal. Eddy had gotten disqualified in both the previous distances so I was ahead of him overall. He ended up winning the last final which but my outside of the medals that year.

Coming up on my last two athletes: Jonathan. I don't have a ton of memories with Jonathan. My biggest memory is probably all the times he and Sebastian would argue and fight during residency training or pretty much any time they were together.

Lastly would be Joey. I don't have too many personal memories with Joey. Lot's of races, lot's of time at different worlds hanging out with everyone. There was also the year we I lived with him here in Utah. I guess two things that stand out both happened in the same year: 2009. The relay on track when he made a really good skater look like they were standing still, and the marathon when he told us he wanted to start his field sprint somewhere around 20th so know one would follow him.

Then there is Shani.. which I will save for a separate post later.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Feels Like

I don't really know the intent of this blog, I just want to write something. I haven't really said much about my skating over the last several weeks. Honestly I haven't wanted to think about it at all.

The absolute biggest change for me competing and training in an Olympic sport versus competing in a Pan American sport are the highs and lows. The highs feel really good and the lows make you rethink what you are even doing.

Fall trials seems like a nightmare and I can't even remember that much about it. I just remember the way I lost.. the last race. Then I remember all of the feelings afterward. I wanted to walk away.. for about two weeks I didn't want to skate anymore. Then I was all in. Then Olympic trials happened. It felt similar to fall trials but completely different at the same time. Olympics trials didn't go well from the get-go. There wasn't a single race I felt that I didn't underperform. So there wasn't a crushing/bitter defeat to end the competition it was just a slow grind of underachieving for four solid days.

The similar parts are the feeling afterward. I'm going another four years. But in my head I just hear this crazy echo of four years. The things I need to improve upon to make that next step are so minute yet make such a profound difference it's incredibly frustrating. I have a hard time thinking about how much hard work has to be put into this. How much stress and sacrifice it involves. The feeling of utter exhaustion of throwing 40 hours/week of work over the next 208 weeks understanding that until I am done skating I can't advance any further in my workplace.

When I switched to ice the idea of skating until 2018 was a given, I was pretty confident 2022 was in play as well.

But I actually had to sit down and contemplate if I wanted to skate anymore. Right now, still in one of those crazy low points I mentioned earlier I still don't know if I should. My deciding factor when I put my thought process into it was to eliminate the now. To try and imagine sitting watching the 2018 games without absolutely no regrets. To see some of my competitors or teammates at the games and not feel like I should be there. I can't do it. That alone is the reason I have to move past this. I feel a certain amount of pride with being able to make that decision. I don't want to feel this low but somewhere deep down I know this agony I can't get past will only help me. Lastly, I found a quote by Abraham Lincoln that pretty much put everything in a nutshell for me. He once said, "My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure."