Erin Mielzynski shocked the ski community
on Sunday in Germany by winning a women's slalom for her first-ever World Cup victory (and first time finishing in the top 10). It was the first win by a Canadian in a World Cup slalom since Betsy Clifford in 1971.
Incredible doesn't begin to describe Erin's momentous achievement at the very young age of 21. She's young and fast, which is great news for Alpine Canada and the women's team, who needed (and I believe deserve) a pick-me-up. This positive affirmation will not only help Erin, but the whole team moving forward.Heart to heart
Two weeks ago, Erin and I were rooming together during our week of racing in Rosa Khutor, Russia
(the Olympic venue for 2014). We had some good fun, but also some very real conversations that went beyond the fluff. She expressed a real desire and struggle as she's trying to race like she trains. In training, she talked about how consistently fast she is, but racing wasn't quite the same.
She went on to say that she was tired of people telling her offhandedly to not worry, "it'll come." This is a common comment and the expected answer when athletes are underperforming on race days. But Erin wasn't really underperforming. She has been improving with consistent top-30 finishes. However, she knew her racing wasn't as good as her training, and this left her wanting more.
"It'll come" is the stock answer that's easy to give to get out of awkward conversations. I was happy when our conversation went beyond that.
Just as I was challenged in my career to look for the lessons, I challenged her to find what was different between her training and racing. Just expecting it "to come" isn't good enough. There's a reason training differs from performance, and it's finding the lesson that can help you make the next step. Racing like you train
The hard part is wading through all the possibilities. Am I racing too hard? Too chill? Too tense? Not tense enough? Too nervous? Too focused on technique? Too aggressive? The possibilities are endless.
The other challenging part is that lessons change over one's career. As an athlete develops it may change the cues and tactics required to pull out her optimal performance. For example, at lower levels, athletes often have to get super-aggressive and attack the course like crazy. Then, to compete on the World Cup circuit, they often must quiet down a bit and really feel their skis again. A calm type of aggression, where you're as efficient as possible, which means not over-working anything. Finding that level of performance is often difficult since it's counter-intuitive to back off when you feel like you should be trying harder than ever.
Anyhow, back to my chat with Erin. She expressed how, in races, things just come at her faster than in training. Again, a common comment from many athletes. It's not that racing is faster or harder, but when an athlete is a little more tense and trying that little bit harder on race day, it often doesn't come together as well as it does outside the race arena.Great day for Canada
Many are capable of winning World Cup races. But very, very few ever do. Erin obviously found the magic combination on Sunday, "the best day of my life" as she called it.
Along with Erin's win, Canada's Marie-Michelle Gagnon posted a career-best result, finishing fifth, and Anna Goodman placed second in the second run to finish 17th overall. What a strong team both on and off the hill - these girls are worth our admiration and respect. I simply couldn't be prouder. It starts with one
Watching podium veterans like Marlies Schild and Lindsey Vonn, we sometimes forget how incredibly hard an athlete has to work to achieve that level of performance. Plus, all of that training is done without guarantees. An athlete never knows if she'll reach her dream of a podium performance.
I still remember Vonn's first podium - in Cortina, Italy in 2004 - like it was yesterday. She finished third in a downhill and was calling her dad crying because she was so ecstatic. It's hard now to imagine Lindsey crying happy tears over a third-place finish. But that's what a podium means to an athlete - it's so much more than just a medal. It's the culmination of not only hard work, but a dream whose roots wrap around your soul.
I'm so proud of Erin. Words are simply unworthy of expressing what this means to her, her family, and the whole Canadian ski community.
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