From my perspective, national team athletes have two primarily responsibilities: to perform and to represent the country well.
Performing well on this channel will require a great good strength, smooth lines, and sharp focus. Our sport is at least 50 percent mental; engaging my mind is critical. Once the training period finishes and the channel closes, we will have to rely on all the good learning we did during our workouts. We start by studying the course from the side thinking, wide or tight line here? Do I need to speed up for this move or slow down? What kind of strokes and edging are most appropriate in various parts of the course? We think back to how we practiced certain sections. We can also review video to remind ourselves of the best ways to do different courses around the poles. Video becomes particularly helpful in the event that the competition course resembles a course we practiced in training.
Although we do not get to practice on the channel once the poles are set for competition, we do have the opportunity to observe other athletes not racing in the competition complete the actual course. We also practice in our mind's eye to help us formulate a good plan for the run. When I visualize, I gain virtual experience on the course. Imagining the run helps me anticipate mistakes and gives me the opportunity to fix them before my boat even touches the water.
What are we up against anyway? Why all the planning? Each racer starts individually during all phases of the race. This is not a head-to-head competition. The object is to navigate the course as quickly as possible. We go downstream around green poles and upstream around red ones. Touching the poles incurs a two-second penalty, while missing the pole altogether warrants a devastating 50-second penalty. The idea is to be "fast and clean," both quick through the poles and penalty-free.
Our sport has three phases of competition: the qualification, semifinal, and final. Potential for up to four runs on two different courses, since the orientation of the poles over the channel chance once the qualification has finished. The qualification consists of two runs, the better of two counts as the paddler's final score in this first phase. Around two-thirds of the competitors will pass through to the semifinal. The semifinal is one run only, and the top 10 boats from that run continue to the final. The 10 boats in the final complete one run in pursuit of a medal. Their semifinal time has no effect on the final result.
Now an Olympic team member, I recognize another duty: to perpetuate the Olympic movement. What does "Olympic movement" mean? Whenever I come across a loaded question like this, I think of Charlie Brown's Christmas when he questions, "what is the meaning of Christmas?" I imagine "Olympic movement" means something a little different to every athlete here in London, but for me the movement encompasses the practice of elite but fair and amiable competition among athletes from across [or around] the globe. One nice feature of the small size of our sport is that people are at least somewhat acquainted with one another, particularly those of similar age.
Casually over Facebook I received an invite from the K1 woman representative of the Cook Islands to participate in a photo with all the other women competing in our race, with all of us dressed for Opening Ceremonies. I immediately accepted, thinking simply, "Fun!" It was a little like flashing back to a high school homecoming, dressing up and taking photos with friends. Very casual and full of smiles. Some reporters from the Olympic Village news publication stopped by us wondering what we were doing. Then it occurred to us, we are probably the only sport doing this! After taking another round of fun photos each of us returned to her country for the march into the stadium. Later, heading back toward the U.S. apartments after Opening Ceremony, I heard the wise voice of Linus van Pelt saying, "that's what the Olympics are all about, Caroline Queen." While the competition will be intense, we are also here to celebrate international friendship. That's my take on the "Olympic movement."
Sounds pretty cool right? Something you definitely want to catch on TV! I have posted several viewing links on Twitter, @SlalomLina. Members of Team USA will be racing on all days of competition, so tune in often starting on July 29. My category begins July 30, I will run at approximately 9:43 a.m. and 11:48 a.m. EST!