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SOCHI 2014

Journey Of Champions presented by Liberty Mutual Insurance: Kikkan Randall Explains What Makes An Olympic Games Great

By Steve Mesler, 2010 Four-Man Bobsled Olympic Champion | Aug. 12, 2013, 2 p.m. (ET)
 
Steve Mesler is a three-
time Olympian and 2010
Olympic gold medalist
in four-man bobsled.

Watch as Kikkan Randall answers questions submitted by fans on Twitter!

Going to the Olympic Games and being an Olympian is a dream that is shared by billions of people around the world. Only a special few ever get to make that dream a reality. Even fewer repeat that opportunity three or more times.

I recently had the chance to catch up with three-time Olympian and world champion cross-country skier Kikkan Randall. Kikkan and I were on the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Olympic Teams together, and it has always interested me to hear how my teammates viewed each of the Games.

I decided to not pick on Kikkan about her upcoming Olympic year and her prospects for Sochi, but to focus more on how she has viewed the Games she’s been to.

What makes an athlete enjoy an Olympic Games? Is it the same things people see at home or are their other factors involved? What do you think an athlete would enjoy about going to an Olympic Games, or what would make the experience less than spectacular?

With those questions in mind, let’s hear what this Fast and Female USA’s lead athlete ambassador has to say!

Steve Mesler: Hi Kikkan! So, my first question for you is how have you viewed the evolution of your career attending three different Olympic Games? 

Kikkan Randall: It's been a really interesting process to go to a few different Olympics and a few different locations at different points in my career. The things you focus on at each of those Olympics really is dependent on what the expectations you have are going into those Games for yourself.

My first Olympics in Salt Lake was really fun because I felt like a kid in a candy store. I was young and it was my first introduction to it all. What I was blown away with was how much stuff is going on outside of the competitions. There's so much — the energy, the people, the concerts, the pin trading. That was a big surprise for me at the time.

In Torino, it was harder to get out and do that kind of stuff. We got down into the city for Opening Ceremony and that was great. I was a little concerned that after having been to an Opening Ceremony (in Salt Lake City) that the second time around it wouldn't be as exciting but… it was more exciting.

And then in Vancouver getting to be there and watch athletes going through it for the first time and watching the “aw” on their faces — it made me kind of get into it again.

The way the ceremonies really kick things off has been pretty cool to see and set the tone for the Olympics.

Kikkan Randall poses during the NBC/U.S. Olympic Committee photo
shoot in West Hollywood, Calif. in April 2013.

SM: So what are the most important things about an Olympics that allow athletes to enjoy them?

KR: The wow factor in your first Olympics is unmatched... but it changes. The first one is just taking it all in and being overwhelmed, and then the second time around you notice more things that are going on. You pay attention to detail and you kind of appreciate everything that goes on, and then your third you really enjoy watching your teammates take it all in for the first time. You begin to relish that experience because it doesn't come along very often.

SM: Which one of your Olympics had the coolest 'wow' factor?

KR: I think the first one was still the one for me. In terms of just the experience of coming to the Games will always be the first and the best. I remember walking down to the stadium in Salt Lake and it was particularly special considering the home team thing — it took us so long to walk around the stadium since we were the last team to walk in and the excitement was just building and building. That was hard to match for sure in the next two.

SM: What I’ll never forget about Salt Lake was seeing the silhouettes of the snipers on the rooftops as we walked in. But I agree — the power of your first Opening Ceremony is hard to beat.

So the Opening Ceremony is the first factor for an athlete’s enjoyment. What else is important in your mind?

KR: The athlete village experience has really been a different experience each time for me. In SLC we were kind of in a small, remote athlete village. Then in Torino, we were in a slightly different village with a few more sports, up in Sestriere. And then Whistler was probably the most fun for me so far.

In Whistler we finally got to have the big dining tent. We had the real village feel with flags up on all the buildings and it was kind of this enclosed area for just the athletes, and that was pretty special.

The food, the feel and the flavor of the entire place are so important.

SM: Alright — so you’re saying Vancouver wins. Size and population is what makes or breaks?

KR: Yeah, and just the feel of it. You felt like you were in your own little world in there!

SM: What's another factor that makes or breaks a Games for you?

KR: The processing experience has been really interesting for me. Going into SLC, it was super fun to get there and grab the shopping cart and go around the big room and it was all new.

I always get really excited for that part of it.

SM: Processing was definitely one of my favorite parts of the Games. I’ll never forget my old teammate and roommate, Curt Tomasevicz, jumping up from a mid-day rest yelling, “It’s Christmas!” when it was our turn to go get our stuff.

KR: It's just a really cool experience either way because it's unique to the Olympics. It doesn't happen at world championships; it doesn't happen on world cup. Getting all of that stuff that says USA on it, you just feel like you're here, you're ready to represent.

Kikkan Randall poses during the NBC/U.S. Olympic Committee
photo shoot in West Hollywood, Calif. in April 2013.

SM: So true. Alright do you have one more?

KR: The final thing would be — I haven't gotten to personally experience this yet, but the medal ceremony and the plaza is such a cool part of the Olympics — how big of an event they make out of it.

Getting to see people win their medals is an amazing experience. In SLC, there was the awesome medals plaza down in the city; sounds like Sochi will be the same. Vancouver there was that really cool plaza in the village of Whistler.

In Torino, they awarded the medals right after the race on the snow at the venue.

SM: They did that in bobsled, too. For you, you prefer the plaza over the event venue then?

KR: Yeah — you know, flower ceremony after the race, but having the evening ceremony after the race at a bigger plaza is pretty cool. Heading into Sochi it's something they debated — whether they'd award the medals at the cross-country venue instead of the city because it's so far up in the mountains, but my opinion was 'no way man!' It's totally going to be worth it to head down and have that happen in the city.

SM: Well all of the reasons an Olympics can be successful from an athlete’s point of view that you gave were really cool to hear. Thanks so much for filling everyone in on what the athletes are looking for out of a Games.

So now on to the questions of the interview that every athlete I chat with has to answer. You ready?

KR: Oh yeah!

SM: Ok — here goes.

What does success look like for you?

KR: I've gotten the chance to really explore that topic through my career. Early on it felt like success was ultimately achieving your goal. You had a really clear, results-based indicator that you wanted to hit that was a place or a certain ranking in the field. I used to be so focused on that.

I've had a few instances in my career where I had some of the best performances of my life that haven't always looked stellar on the results sheet or there may have been other factors that were outside of my control that prevented me from making that result that I wanted. But, in the end, I walked away with an incredible feeling of satisfaction because I knew that I prepared well and gave it all that I had.

I think that's really what success means to me. I know the effort I gave, I know I went after it and pushed myself beyond what I thought I could do and gave everything I could. And that's what ultimately feels the most satisfying to me.

SM: I completely agree and loved that feeling.

So based on what you just said — what are the three most important factors for an athlete to reach that kind of success?

KR: 1. Have a plan

The first one is having a good plan going in. Initially you're ambitious, you've got this great goal, but you think, ‘How do I get there?’ Sometimes it's going to be 10 years, 12 years in the making. You've got to have a plan. You've got to know some of the intermediate steps you've got to hit along the way. You've got to know all of the different components that go into that performance. It's the training, the nutrition, the body care, all of those different things. So the plan is huge.

2. Keep a positive mindset

The second is having a positive frame of mind is really important because you're invariably going to have peaks, but you're going to have valleys, too. So to keep progressing forward if you can look at everything in a positive manner, whether it's something to improve upon, something to learn from or something that you're doing really well that you should keep on doing. A positive outlook has certainly helped me a lot.

3. Surround yourself with a good team

And the third I think would be surrounding yourself with a good environment, aka support team. I've found that cross-country skiing is an individual sport but has a really big team aspect to it. I've found that I flourish the best when I have good people around me — have teammates around me that really push me and have coaches around me that keep the whole atmosphere positive and supportive.

So having a plan, being positive and having a good environment are all keys to that success.

SM: Thanks, Kikkan — those were awesome answers and we appreciate your honesty. Great to chat with you and best of luck as you head toward Sochi!

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