It was a dream of mine to be an Olympian since the day I understood what it meant. I remember watching on the TV as all the athletes walked into the Opening Ceremonies, and wanting to be there! It is funny to think back and wonder, “what was the draw?” Why is the idea of being an “Olympian” so intriguing for a child? For me, I think it comes down to the fact that since I was very young, I have always wanted to be the best. I did not know what that meant, however I did know that I always wanted to make it to the top of the hill the fastest, and I wanted to have the highest score on my test. I have been addicted to challenge since the minute I discovered it.
As a kid, I watched the Olympics on the TV, and quickly fell in love with the top athletes. They were beautiful, strong, happy, and clearly not afraid of anything in the world. I remember thinking that I wanted to be just like them. As I stared at the TV, I knew almost nothing about these athletes, but they were my heroes. When I showed up in South Korea, for my second Olympics, and a dream of chasing some medals, I tried to channel that inner hero in me. I tried to remember that believing in my beautiful, strong, happy and fearless self was the best way to reach my goals. There are so many emotions, feelings, and thoughts that come racing through your head when you first show up to a big event like the Olympics. Right from the start, it was clear this Olympics was going to test my inner strength. As we arrived, temperatures dropped below zero degrees Fahrenheit, and the wind nearly blew us to the ground. The snow was incredibly different than any snow I had ever skied on, and it required a new set of tools and techniques to conquer it. We were on a golf course without a tree around, and it sometimes felt like I was out skiing on the moon. All these new “things” made me realize that this Olympics was going to require some patience and adaptability.
The Olympics are always a strange time for an athlete, because once every four years you are on a stage. Suddenly the world signs on, and watches you with so much excitement and belief. In a way this Olympic moment resembles one second in a 30 minute video. Pretend you are watching a ten kilometer race video, and you stop that video at exactly 12 minutes and 43 seconds into the film. At that very moment the still shot is a representation of the Olympics. It is every athletes dream to have that still shot be the best in the world, the best moment of your life, the best ever! This is what we spend four years of our life, 365 days of the year, 24 hours of the day focusing on. This one still shot that we are giving everything for. Good or bad, it is the one second clip that is going to decide what will happen.
So how do you deal with that as an athlete? How do you deal with the pressure of wanting to have your best ever during the golden moment? For me, it means controlling what I can. What I can control are things such as: my effort on race day, nutrition, sleep, mental state, ski testing, my schedule, my connection with my teammates, my preparation, my nerves, etc. And then I have to recognize the things I can’t control. These may be: how other competitors are feeling, the wax under my ski, the profile of the course, whether I get named to a team or an event, staying healthy, the type of snow that falls, the way the corners are banked, my start position, the wind, the time of day I am racing, and most importantly… my number at the end of the day. My goal from the start was to nail my controllable’s, and forgive the uncontrollable’s. Right from the beginning, I had to put this mantra to the test. My very first event of the Games was the event I individually was looking forward to the most. It was a classic sprint, an event I have had some success with during this season. In addition, the profile of the sprint course was a course I couldn’t have dreamed up better for myself. I showed up race day ready to fight, I had put all fear aside, and did my very best. When I got knocked out in the quarterfinals, instead of being defeated by the disappointment, I felt good about the fact that I had done my very best at the things I could control. There were some things out there that didn’t go perfectly, that I really needed, but it was out of my control… therefore, I had to swallow the disappointment, and move on. The following event, I had a similar experience, and found myself feeling disappointment in yet another less than my best day in the 10k skate.
Keeping my head up, I went into the 4x5km relay with so much motivation, belief, and trust in our team. I felt like we had arrived on the big stage in a place to truly fight. I didn’t have an ounce of fear in my body, but an enormous amount of belief. I think the 24 hours before this relay will be one of my greatest memories in my athletic career. To show up on the start line, and believe with every cell in your body that you are capable of something… and then share that feeling with a team, is overpowering. To fight with literally the best in the world, and know you belong is one of the neatest emotions I have ever felt. The flow of the race didn’t go exactly as planned, but once again, every single girl on that team did the absolute best that we could in the given situation, and for that I was darn proud!
Then my next hurdle came. I had been dreaming of being on the team sprint team for the past year. The combination of speed and endurance that is required for this event makes it by far one of my favorite races! With only two people participating in the event, it is a tough team to choose. Unfortunately, I wasn’t selected for the team. Initially this was crushing, heartbreaking, and defeating. But as I had told myself from the start, at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself “Did you do everything you could”? And I had, and I was proud to say it. I had as much belief in Kikkan as I did in myself, so I knew that the outcome would be great. And sure enough, when the day came, the outcome was far more than great! Jessie and Kikkan both skied “out of this world”, and climbed their way up to the top step to win a gold medal! The first ever medal won by a US woman in our sport! I was overcome with excitement, love, and respect, and couldn’t be more proud of them. A small piece deep inside my heart crumbled at the same time, knowing that I had missed such an amazing opportunity.
My final race of the Games was the longest, and biggest wild card for me. I have had both amazing, as well as very tough 30 kilometer races in my career. I tried to channel all the frustrations, excitement, belief, encouragement and energy into this final opportunity at the Olympics. I went out on a fearless mission, but again didn’t quite reach my expectation. I fought with my skis for 30 kilometers, and finally crossed the line feeling bummed to the core. After 47 kilometers of Olympic racing, I felt like I had little to show for the step I had made in my ski racing.
Since leaving Korea, I have had a lot of time to think about these Olympic Games. I came to South Korea with a goal, and a belief in myself. I knew I needed to have many things work in my favor to achieve these goals, but that is what makes special days so special. The great thing about setting a goal is that it is a motivation, and a thing to worship as you work your butt off to get there. For years, you wake up every morning, and dive into your daily goal, because you know it will contribute to this larger goal you are shooting for. You dedicate your heart, life, and soul to it. Then, when the day comes, that goal is achieved by three people, and the rest walk away feeling like they have failed in a way. I know I am not alone in the feelings that I experienced in South Korea. When you set goals, you only prepare yourself for the outcome of reaching them. You certainly don’t prepare yourself for what it will feel like when you fall short. For that reason, I feel like I learned a lot in Korea. At times during those three weeks, I felt overpowered by disappointment. During these times, I had to convince myself that the Olympics are special. While the TV will only show the stories of the few people that had those medal winning incredible days, I think the young Sadie Bjornsen would look at the current Sadie Bjornsen, and see her as a hero too. Chasing a dream, missing that dream, and getting back up with full belief is a special opportunity. It is a characteristic that every athlete in South Korea has, because I tell you, we didn’t get there easily! There were hundreds of setbacks, hurdles, and disappointments along the way.
At the end of the day, my one second clip within my 30 minute video was not my best. It wasn’t a train wreck, it just wasn’t the climax of the movie. As a friend told me, “grieving those feelings of disappointment is important”. If it didn’t hurt, then you probably didn’t truly believe it was possible. Mixed within all those feelings were some unbelievable feelings! Watching our Women’s Team win our first ever Olympic Medal for this country was unbelievable! We have known forever it is possible, but to actually show our country what we are made of is a dream! We have all dared to have big dreams, and never been afraid of falling short when we jump. While I didn’t get to stand on that podium that evening, tears slid down my face knowing how hard we have all worked for this. The years of believing, the years of pushing each other, and the years of supporting each other finally paid off! I am so proud of Kikkan and Jessie for skiing one heck of a gutsy, commanding, and strong race! Those two deserve that golden moment more than any two women I have ever met in the world! Thank you Kikkan and Jessie for not only brining out the best in all of us, but also demonstrating the best in you that evening!
And now, it is time to step off the island, and head back into the normal winter routine. Although I left Korea still grieving some disappointment, I have turned the page, and found my fire and excitement for the final three weeks of the season! Every day is an opportunity, and the Olympics may only come every four years, but that doesn’t mean the world stops between. There are some World Cup’s to be chased, and some opportunities to be had!
Thank you to my wonderful family, teammates, coaches, friends, sponsors and supporters for sharing this fun experience with me! Thanks for believing in me, pushing me, and allowing me to dare to dream! Let me tell you, I ain’t done yet! Let the dream continue! What goes up, must come down, and what falls down, must get back up!
Here is a little collection of photos from the Games in no particular order.
First arriving to Korea a little jet legged from the 8 hour time change. Saved by some coffee and onesies.
Kikkan and I walking into my very first Opening Ceremonies. (Noah Hoffman photo)
My first ever manicure!
Spending the afternoon with Katie Couric. (Reese Brown photo).
My home for three weeks.
Thank you to organizers and authorities for helping keep everyone safe!
Thank you to my amazing friend, Jaime Bronga, for coming all the way from Alaska and screaming her face off for me! Love you Jaime!
My attempted attack in the sprint race. (Flying Point Road photo)
Once you cross that finish line, the question you have to ask, “Did I do the best I could today?” (Getty Images)
Dancing away some pre-race nerves.
Relay racing- (Flying Point Road photo).
Steve Fuller said it best. “The highest bar is the hardest to hurdle”. Proud to have set our bar so high as a team! (USSA photo)
Skiing on the moon!
Visiting a temple with my Sports Psych one afternoon.
The team behind the Golden Team (Flying Point Road photo).
This is the image of a team that just won a gold medal together! (USSA photo).
Shedding some tears of joy combined with tears of pain. After just winning a gold medal, the first thing this girl told me when she hugged me was “I believe in you”. I can’t tell you how much those four words meant to me! Jessie, thanks for both inspiring me, but also pulling me along with you. You have grown into quite the leader yourself, girl. I am surrounded by a team of exceptional woman, that even an Olympic Gold medal isn’t enough to define how amazing they are! (USSA photo)
To the man that formed this bond, thank you for believing in us! Matt Whitcomb, you have never accepted something as impossible! We would never be here if it wasn’t for you! Those tears are hard earned (USSA photo).
Thank you to the wax technicians doing all the hard work behind the scenes. As with us, these guys will have good and bad days, but you can guarantee every day is going to be 110% effort with this crew. We work as a team, and we wouldn’t be able to do it without these guys!
Really cool to see Jessie get selected as the closing ceremonies flag bearer!
All things made better with your best friends around!
Some hard earned lounging in these five rings.
Goodnight South Korea, and Olympics 2018. Thank you for helping me grow!