Erin Mielzynski learns to believe in herself
Canadian skier hopes to maximize great potential
At just 23, Erin Mielzynski is already one of the leaders of the Canadian alpine technical team, and one of the most promising ski racers of her generation. Mielzynski carries this weight on her shoulders; she is learning to live with the pressure that such a role entails.
Mielzynski will get her first taste of World Cup slalom action this Saturday in Levi, Finland.
"Sometimes I don't even know if I'm making the right decisions, so it's hard for me to tell others what to do," said Mielzynski, who was born in Brampton, Ont. "Someone will ask me a question and I have to turn to someone else to find out the answer. I am learning alongside the rest of the team."
The learning process has been ongoing for Mielzynski, who joined Canada's national team in 2008.
Her first real professional success came at the World Cup in Ofterschwang, Germany, on March 3, 2012, when she became, suddenly, the first Canadian to win a women's slalom race since Betsy Clifford in 1971. Before the win, Mielzynski hadn't finished higher than 13th in a World Cup race.
In 2012-2013, there were expectations that she could continue on this trajectory. She racked up five separate Top 10 finishes, including a bronze medal at a race in Zagreb, Croatia, but it wasn't a totally satisfying season.
"I still haven't been as consistent as I would have liked," said Mielzynski. "I've never been able to come down the course the way I did every day during my training."
'Strong and ruthless'
Her third-place showing in Zagreb at the beginning of January helped her feel slightly better and relieved some pressure. The podium finish showed that her gold medal in 2012 had been pure luck. In any case, the 2012-13 season taught her to learn how to face difficulties.
"I learned that I had to trust myself, that I deserve to be where I am and that I have to trust my instincts," said Mielzynski. "I learned to be strong and ruthless when confronted with difficulties, she added. "It's a pretty big lesson. It's going to be useful next year in Sochi, to reduce the gap between the best skiers, and also so that I can replicate my best performances achieved in training."
This season, Mielzynski is entering more giant slalom races. She believes that coming at the gates from a different angle and speed will improve her reflexes and keep her from getting boxed in as a one-dimensional skier.
"They're so different, but they're for sure going to help each other," she told CBCSports.ca in October. "When I ski GS (giant slalom) and then I go to slalom, I make good changes in slalom, and the other thing is sometimes it makes you hungry to ski slalom. Last year I was skiing slalom many days in a row. Now, if a GS race breaks it up, you're hungry to ski slalom [again]."
The opening GS race of the World Cup season, in Soelden, Austria, didn't go as a planned: Mielzynski finished 51st. But she was grateful to get the nerves out of the way and work on her race day routine before the season starts to kick into a higher gear.
She's also grateful to have trained on the downhill and super combined runs in Sochi, even though those aren't her signature events.
"It's important because you feel less disoriented if you are already familiar with the place," she said. "I felt comfortable on the course."
Mielzynski, whose first Olympic experience in Vancouver included a 20th place showing in the slalom, recognizes that she tends to worry and overthink things. When things don't go as planned, when plans get sabotaged, that's when doubts creep in.
For now, she's focusing on working on the "small details," she said.
"Even if you don't win a medal, it can still be a great day," she explained. "I still get to learn how to train and to race. If I end up doing my two best finishes in Sochi just like I did when training, it doesn't matter what's the time, it still means that I'm really good."
Another great lesson.
This story has been translated from French and edited by CBC Sports.