Thoughts Post-Worlds

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Sorry for the delay in posting this...a girl's gotta recover from jetlag! Here are some thoughts of mine post-worlds...

What a journey this has been. I’m currently sitting on the couch looking out the window at the aftermath from the Snowpocalypse. As I look out seeing the blanket of white for miles and miles, and feeling the chill in the air, there is a part of me that wishes I was back in the southern hemisphere! However, there is also a part of me that is truly so happy to finally be home. A month is a long time to be gone, and with all of the pre-worlds prep we did too in December, I feel like I haven’t been here at home in ages. This is really the first time I’ve had the time and energy to sit and reflect on the whirlwind of Worlds. For me, that’s exactly what it was – from the time competition started until it ended, it was bam-bam-bam one race right after the next. And while there was a lot to celebrate along the way, and lessons learned, it wasn’t until now that I even thought about all that unfolded for myself and for Team USA.

For me, I finished as the world champion in the 200m, second in the world earning silver medals in the 100m and 400m and was and 4th in the 800m. Team USA earned 34 medals total, finishing 4th in the overall medal count. I am proud of myself and so proud of our team, as we are positioned very well in the lead up to London 2012. To come back from World’s with these as my results is better than I could have imagined. I was nervous with World’s being in January, nervous about the length of our season, nervous about whether or not our preparation work in our typical off-season was going to actually work or not. And, thankfully, it did due to the incredible guidance and expertise from my coach Adam Bleakney.

In my last post, I explained the fact that this type of trip is not a vacation. In reality, as competition begins, it gets harder and harder to remind yourself of why you are there and to keep yourself on the eat-sleep-race-nap-eat-race regiment. It becomes equally hard to keep focused as you see your teammates finishing their competition, knowing that you still have more days to go. But, I guess that’s why not everybody is on Team USA. For me, the two main takeaways from my Worlds experience were: 1) be true to yourself and 2) don’t sweat the small stuff.

Being true to yourself sounds simple enough, but in reality, in the heart of the buzz of international competition, it’s actually quite hard to do. What I mean by being true to yourself, is remembering why you are there on that starting line, and remembering who you are, not allowing other people’s predictions or expectations distract you as an athlete. To do this, it meant that I had to confidently attack each race. One of the songs on my race day playlist is called “Own It” by the Blackeyed Peas, this song was helpful in those moments of struggle to remember to be true to myself and to own the moment. “Anybody could be famous, it don’t matter what your name is, it’s your moment baby claim it, go out and own it.” I would be lying if I said there was not pressure and expectations on us as athletes and as Team USA at Worlds. That pressure is a reality, and one of the biggest challenges faced in order to be true to yourself in this type of situation. It is so easy to be swayed or influenced by others.
I’ve never been the type of person who has to learn the same lesson twice; and for me, I learned this lesson hard and true in Beijing during the 2008 Games. After the 100m prelim in Beijing, which I won my heat by a considerable amount, I entered the final as one of the favorites of that race. I was a top sprinter, I was expected to be on the medal stand, and truthfully, I expected it of myself too. Lined up on that starting line, with 91,000 fans in the stadium cheering, the starting gun went up. “Take your mark”. We all slowly roll up to the start line positioning our front wheel just right. I fidget with my hand position a bit getting myself ready for the anticipation of what was to come. “Set”. Arms ready—positioned just right on the rim, squeezing with just enough pressure, raising my torso a little bit to be able to then react like a bullet at the very next sound---my start has always been my strength, I’m always first off the line, no matter what. “Bang!” I was not first off that line. On my inside, a competitor from another country suddenly had an entire racing chairs’ length on the entire field within the first moments of that race; she exploded off that start line. In that moment, I was so distracted by my disbelief that the best way I later described it to my coach was that I forgot I was in a race. For 100m, forgetting your in a race, is not a very good thing. Before I knew it, the race was over, and I was 6th. That moment of failure has stayed with me, but it wasn’t until being at Worlds that I finally as one to learn from. I thought about that moment going into Worlds as something to remember, and to make sure not to allow history to repeat itself! I had to be true to MYself, not true to someone else, to be me no matter what else was or is happening around me.

This leads me to my second lesson learned on this trip, don’t sweat the small stuff. It would be easy to let emotions get the best of you on this type of trip. As I discussed earlier, the world is watching, there are expectations and pressures that you have to navigate, but more than that there are a lot of things at a type of event like this that are 100% beyond your control. Even the most well thought out plan will go awry. And, you just have to roll with the punches. That’s the only option!

For me, this lesson came to fruition during the toughest part of my competition week. It all started with my 800m final. This race is a challenging race for me, as it is the longest one that I do, and a far more tactical race because you do not stay in your lane which means you can draft with competitors and have to be aware of everything happening on the track around you. We had a plan for this race that didn’t quite work out. I went out hard, had to make some tactical decisions in the first 450m and ultimately one of those decisions is what lost me the race. I fought hard and was able to finish 4th in the World. Immediately after that race, I was hit with emotions of disappointment, frustration and exhaustion. And then, I was ‘tagged’ for drug testing, meaning I was identified, as any athlete can be at competition, to report to drug testing for urine and blood test. And then, I had an asthma attack. And then, I realized I had to be in the call room tent (pre-race tent) for my 200m prelim within the next 10 minutes. I don’t care who you are, that is an awful lot of things to deal with in a very short period of time. At this competition we had to report to our call room tent 40 minutes prior to our race, and during those 40 minutes inside this tent, there was not really a thing you could do except sit there and wait. There was no space to move around, you are not allowed to bring your iPod or anything in with you, so you just sit.

Whenever you’ve had a rapid fire of all of those things that happened, just sitting is sort of the last thing you want to do! At least it is for me. Sitting there in the tent, I could feel the emotions getting the best of me, could feel the tears welling up in my eyes and I realized I had a choice to make, right then and there. I could a) let the emotions get the best of me and potentially blow this 200m prelim that I’d been training so hard for or b) not sweat the small stuff and reframe my thinking to remember that that 800m race was in the past, that I still finished 4th in the world, that I’m still a member of Team USA at World Championships, that we had an amazing medical staff who did all she could to get my asthma to calm down and to just go out there and be true to myself. I made my decision, went out and won my preliminary round breaking the World Championship Record and then went on the next day to do it again breaking the record I had set the day before and having my gold medal moment.

These two lessons are important for all of us though, whether you’re a World Champion or not. With whatever it is that you’re working towards, be true to yourself and remember to not sweat the small stuff!

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