In the first three weeks of the bobsled World Cup circuit I competed on both of my home tracks and one in my backyard. We started in Lake Placid, N.Y., moved to Park City, Utah, my home tracks, then on to Whistler, BC, Canada, our backyard. Out of those six races we finished with three gold in two-man and two silver in four-man – a pretty good start considering it’s been 12 years since an American has won back-to-back gold in two-man, let alone three in-a-row. As great as it all sounds, I did have a little bit of an advantage.
In my last post “Home Track Advantage: The Track” I wrote about how being competitive on your home track was a huge benefit because bobsledding is all about repetition and experience, and nobody spends more time on a track than the home team. But, it’s not just the track that gives you the advantage. Sure, having a couple dozen extra runs down a track will make you a better and more competitive driver, but it doesn’t end there, there is one more element that every countryman wants as their advantage: the crowd.
As I explained last time, every NFL field is the same, every NBA court is the same, and every single hockey rink is the same, no matter where you are. The one difference in professional sports is that they play roughly half of their games in front of the home crowd. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but ask any professional athlete if they prefer a home crowd or a visiting crowd? I am going to go out on a limb here and say that every single athlete prefers the home crowd. When they make a basket, the crowd goes wild. Complete a pass, the crowd goes wild. Win the game, the crowd goes even wilder. Imagine if you told a team that they were going to play 95% of their games on the road.
Welcome to the world of Olympic sports. We compete on foreign soil 90-95% of the time where, believe it or not, nobody wants to see us do well, nobody wants to see us win. When we do claim a victory, it is in front of thousands of people that are not too thrilled at the fact that we just beat their team, just like it is in any other sport. The catch is, for our next race we will be in front of a completely different crowd that just as equally doesn’t want us to win. The week after that, another crowd, same feelings. I spend my competitive life surrounded in disappointment or in some cases resentment. Sure, they clap their hands when I get to the starting line, but it’s a, “Hey, thanks for showing up today” clap. They clap when our names are announced as the winners and our flag is raised. But they aren’t clapping because they are proud of us, they aren’t clapping because they’re happy we have just done so well. They’re clapping because it’s polite, it’s sportsmanlike.
It sounds mundane and inconsequential, but trust me, it’s not. I train incredibly hard for the six months leading up to the season. All the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears that go into ensuring that I can be competitive against the “European Professionals” will usually go unnoticed. When it’s finally time to show my stuff, all that I’ve been working for, nobody really cares. Don’t get me wrong, I love beating the Germans in Germany, the Swiss in Switzerland, the Austrians in Austria, and hopefully the Russians in Russia, but stealing other people’s thunder, as rewarding as it is, just isn’t the same; you’re never the hero, just the villain.
Does the home crowd give the home team an advantage? You bet it does. There is no greater joy than hearing the crowd chant “U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A” at the start line or the sing along with the “Star-Spangled Banner” as Old Glory is raised above the homeland, recognizing all the hard work and sacrifices that have been put in for months leading up to that point. So, the next time you find yourself at an event here in the United States, know that every American athlete is anxiously waiting to show you how hard they’ve worked, how bad they want to win, and wants nothing more than to make you proud.