Figure Skating

Elizabeth Manley - Monday Feb. 10, 2014 21:36

Liz Manley: Skaters' prep is done, now the battle is mental

Strategies are in place for handling the final days up to competition

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Kaetlyn Osmond works through an on-ice practice at Sochi on Feb. 4. Liz Manley says her decision to leave the Games and work out in Germany for a week is a key one. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

As I just watched some of the most incredible figure skating ever performed on Olympic ice in the new team event this past weekend, I found myself remembering and thinking about the strategy that skaters have.

What are they doing, what are they thinking, what are they trying to achieve during these intense moment of their Olympics?

In actual fact, right now the work is done.

When an athlete arrives at the Olympics, they’re ready. They are at the best they can possibly be and the focus is to maintain all the hard work.

You see, the Olympics are really a mental game, and if you’ve made it there you are already good enough and considered one of the best in the world. The challenge is mental.

A skater practicing before the competition is not learning new tricks or trying to develop something completely new. Practice sessions are used to become aware of the arena atmosphere, to size up the competition and to skate through all the prepared elements for the event.

It's about maintaining the work already done prior to arriving.

The toughest part, however, is distractions. Suddenly, the athlete is not in the comfort of home and is surrounded by media, fans, and their toughest competitors. Staying focused and remembering to stick to the plan that the coach and athlete has prepared prior to the Games is the key to success.

Strategy for practice sessions? Feel the ice, loosen up, and look at it as a warm up for the actual event.

Some of our athletes are leaving Sochi to train elsewhere, and this is a great move. I did it in Calgary back in 1988, attending the opening ceremonies and then flying back to Ottawa for a full week of work before my competition began.

Kaetlyn Osmond and Gabriella Daleman have decided to train in Mannheim, Germany, for a week, a fantastic decision on their part because they can relax, rest and stay focussed on the job at hand.

Staying focused at the Olympics is such an important training technique and could make the difference between a podium position or a complete failure in their performance.

The excitement and craziness of an Olympics can become detrimental to an athlete’s performance, so the decision made by Kaetlyn and Gabriella shows their true commitment.

During competition, once again, strategy is also important. You stay away from the other skaters and warm up quietly somewhere. Wear an MP3 player to drown out noise and to listen to music that puts you in the best game mode.

Not spending a lot of time at the arena prior to the event is sometimes a decision skaters make. You see some arrive in time only to have a stretch warm-up and prep to compete.

These strategy modes are the key marks every skater wants to hit. They want to know they are ready and are comfortable when that moment of competition starts. When they step on that ice, they want to know they have done everything possible to make it like any other event they have competed in.

At an Olympics, the plan is as important as the actual skate. While you watch each event, you’ll have an idea now what’s going on behind the scenes.

When you see them standing at centre ice waiting for their music to begin, hold your breath with them and know they have done everything possible at that moment and their life comes down to the next few minutes.

Appreciate them, no matter what country they are from. Respect the physical game they have trained so hard for and be in awe of the mental game that is taking place.

(Liz Manley, 1988 Olympic silver medallist, is blogging and participating in live chats for CBC, during the Olympics.)

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