Learning from a champion - Even the very best need to improve

As I have observed critical commentary of high-level athletes over the years there seems to be, whether intended or not the implication that champion athletes who put together winning performances over and over again are not human and live without emotions. Based on my personal experience and research that implication is 100% wrong. 

Behind every great champion performance is a competitor and a human being who has put everything on the line in order to finish in first place. In the sport of skiing, that also involves the willingness to risk severe injury. A champion ski racer, no matter how hard she or he has trained finishes a race physically and mentally exhausted. Their minds have been hyper focused and their bodies pushed to the absolute limits and then we expect those same individuals to instantly turn off their game face and give interviews and to offer flawless commentary.

Whatever happened before Shiffrin’s start in the World Cup GS, to cause the delay is an uncontrollable part of competition and there is also a very real, non-zero chance that the gate repair took a little longer than necessary. My guess is that Shiffrin’s coaching staff will find subtle ways to insert the unexpected into some of her upcoming training sessions. One might recall the interview with the coach of Michael Phelps who talked about stepping on Phelp’s goggles prior to a training session. Or the interviews with Tiger Wood’s father talking about jingling his keys around the green as the young Tiger learned to putt. The athletes at the very top prepare for every possibility. 

With respect to Shiffrin’s post-race commentary, I suggest that the readers focus on her own critique of her performance: She acknowledged that she should “handle these situations better” …“I was OK, I was just getting mad, that’s something that I can learn from,” she said. “I still did a pretty good job on most of my run but just not quite good enough” (NY Post, March 8).

Subscribe to Steve Victorson's Newsletter