SOCHI 2014

By Steve Mesler, 2010 Four-Man Bobsled Olympic Champion | May 29, 2013, 1 p.m. (ET)


Bill Demong heads a pack in the Nordic combined cross country
10km race during the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships at
Holmenkollen on March 2, 2011 in Oslo, Norway.

 
Steve Mesler is a three-
time Olympian and 2010
Olympic gold medalist
in four-man bobsled.

Picture yourself moving to the start line of an Olympic Games. The crowd is beating their drums, shaking their cowbells, and a silence comes over you. It’s the silence of concentration you’ve been waiting for your whole life.

But somewhere in that silence is a thought. A thought of, “Am I really about to do this?

Also in that silence, deep inside, is another thought. A thought that no one has done what you are hoping to do, for generations, if ever. The next thought is, “Can I actually do it?”

I know that feeling. I had it on a snowy day in Whistler, British Columbia in February 2010. You have pushed any doubts on race day so far inside you can barely feel them. But they are there, buried, but still alive.

Billy Demong knows that feeling as well. You see, in 86 years no American had won Olympic gold in a Nordic combined event. That is, until the day Billy stepped to the line and silenced the drums and cowbells on his day in February of 2010.

I remember watching him. I remember when he accomplished his feat it gave confidence to my team that we could end our sport’s 62-year drought. I also remember voting for Billy to carry our flag in the Closing Ceremony of those Olympics.

I retired after Vancouver and Billy did not. After winning gold at age 31, I couldn’t think of going another four years. Billy, at 29, had different thoughts and after having similar experiences being the scrappy underdogs who rewrote history in Vancouver together, Billy and I chatted about what the advantages, disadvantages and motivation behind going for gold one more time look like…

Billy answers your Twitter questions via Skype!

Thanks for joining us for another month of Journey Of Champions presented by Liberty Mutual Insurance, Billy. We’re looking forward to hearing about how you’re viewing everything heading into Sochi, so let’s get started.

How have you approached Sochi differently than Vancouver?

For me, I wanted to approach Sochi in a way that I thought I'd have the most motivation. After Vancouver, I took the year off. We rebuilt our house and I almost feigned injury because you see so many athletes come back so motivated after a break.

I caught up on a little bit of “real life” and came back in competitive. I'd been doing well in World Championships (since my return) and was picking up the occasional podium, but I feel like I did do a pretty good job of getting off of everybody's radar. I know I'm still a great cross country skier and a great jumper - but there are things I can do to be better.

What do you notice from a differences standpoint? We were both in a position where people knew we were going to do well in Vancouver, but we weren’t the defending champions.

What are the advantages you really see going in as a defending Olympic gold medalist?

There's one thing to be said about confidence – when nobody has medaled in your sport in a really long time, or ever, there's sort of a barrier there. Even though you know it can happen, it's a lot tougher to believe it will or it could. Having had some success makes it far easier to know.

You know that if you show up, in shape, and do your best in the competition then you have absolutely every chance in the world to win. It allows you to relax and focus on the process a lot more because you're not worried about whether it's possible. You know it's possible, you just need to get up at the right time, eat the right breakfast, stretch, do your thing, and go out there and stay in the moment to get it done.

I've been curious – when I look at guys like Michael Phelps and others, I don't know how they just keep doing it. I don't know how you just keep coming back with drive after you've had that kind of success. How are you looking at it?

For me it's kind of mind boggling when someone like Lindsey Vonn was pretty much unbeatable. I'm like, man, that's gotta get boring. I like the fight. This year I didn't medal at World Championships (individually), and for sure didn't kill it, and I think that makes me more motivated for sure.

I read your blog about the individual day at worlds.

That was rough. It was rough to finally have a great day on the jump and have no chance.

(Check out Bill’s blog about that ridiculously rough day in Italy.)

So, are you finding any disadvantages now heading into Sochi as defending champion? Or is it just that you have to answer questions like this???

Haha – no , I feel like having had the success, the disadvantage is that the expectation is so high. The challenge is to remove yourself from that expectation, to be able to focus on what you want to do, not what everyone else wants you to do.

So what's the difference?

Well, one is that everyone wants to be your coach. Everyone says "hey man, I know you're gonna do it." And it's like... thanks bro, but I got this.

I think it's a little bit of a challenge to kind of mediate your own thoughts and keep everybody else happy and satisfied with answers but also maintain your own plan and strategy and not get sucked into "I HAVE to win."

I don't have to win. I'm not going to lose any sleep if I don't win in Sochi. But I want to win and I'll probably sleep a little better if I do. At 33, with the maturity, it's a lot easier to mediate that.

I know at 21, when we were supposed to medal in Salt Lake, it was really hard to keep clear what was my goal and my expectation versus the coach's and the media's.

So this time around I'll answer any questions they give me, but in my head I've got my own goals and my own expectations. For sure, they do include success in Sochi.

 

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