AUGUST 31, 2011

Natalie CoughlinI still can’t believe that the London Games are less than a year away.  It seems like yesterday I was preparing for Beijing.  Or Athens, for that matter.  Eleven months sounds like a long time, but in swimming terms that’s nothing.

Preparing for the Olympic year is a lot like preparing for a World Championship year in some ways and vastly different in other ways.  My events don’t change.  My strategy for each race doesn’t differ too much.  I don’t spend any more hours in the pool, or in the gym, or with my Pilates instructor.  My competitors are often the same.

But yet the Olympic year is so different.  It was all of us dreamt about when we were young.  Watching the 1988 Seoul Games on television was my first exposure to the Olympics.  I was only six years old, but loved watching my two sports: swimming and gymnastics.  In swim practice and gymnastics practice, it was everyone’s dream to someday compete for our country.

Although I loved gymnastics, I wasn’t destined to be an Olympic gymnast.  I was decent on bars but lacked grace in pretty much everything else.  My movements were always forced and too aggressive.  If we were supposed to do one graceful turn on the floor, I would do three really fast, awkward, aggressive ones.  Even at that age I was incredibly competitive!  Thankfully I wised up at age eleven and quit gymnastics to focus on swimming.  To say that I was better in water than on land was an understatement.

Two decades later, I’m still in the water competing.  When I was six years old I had no real comprehension of the Olympics; I just knew that I wanted to be a part of them.

The only way that I can describe the Olympic year is pure craziness (and I mean that in a good way).  My schedule is filled with sponsor obligations, media obligations, competitions and training.  I travel constantly.  As I write this, I’m sitting on a plane headed to Mexico for a photo shoot.  3 a.m. wakeup call, 6 a.m. flight.  I have a Pilates and strength routine that I’ll do in my hotel room tomorrow morning before my call time and will be in the studio the rest of the day.  The following day I’ll return home on another 6 a.m. flight, be home by 10 a.m., and immediately jump back into my daily routine.

The buildup and anticipation of the next year is both stressful and exciting.  The focus is heightened.  Juggling my numerous schedules is a learned skill.  Fortunately I’ve gone through all the craziness before.  My calendar is full and I’m looking forward to the challenges that the next eleven months present.