As the alpine ski world championships wrap up in Schladming, Austria, so does the dress rehearsal for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. With less than one year before the Sochi Games begin, national federations and athletes will draw on lessons learned from these worlds as part of their preparation. It will be these lessons that help them better prepare -- or for a select few, keep things as they are -- for the Olympics.
At major events, it is common to hear nerves blamed for an athlete's poor result, often referred to as "choking." Such statements often vex me. I suppose it's the easiest comment to make when more information is absent or the ability to truly recognize and acknowledge the complexity involved in a top performance is avoided. Sadly, this is also a useful way for people to ensure the blame lies solely with the athlete. It is true, the buck stops with the athlete, but a holistic look at performance is critical to future success.
I suppose my dislike for attributing poor performances to nerves also stems from my own fears of choking at a major event or having people mistakingly perceive that I choked. There are times when nerves get the better of you, but I believe, in most instances, when someone made an error, be it mental, tactical or technical, it stemmed from a hole in their preparation.
The variance in elements that play into one's performance equates to a jigsaw puzzle -- ever changing, organic and different from individual to individual, circumstance to circumstance. Athletes must be able to look critically and honestly within themselves to learn and federations must look at patterns and structure to see where their part is played.
Most analysts and funding bodies, both government and privatized, will look at these worlds to help predict 2014 Olympic results. However, alpine is a sport of countless variables, making predictions taken from one race series sorely lacking in substance.
I believe it is the number of athletes who are consistently earning Top 15 results on the World Cup circuit that is most likely to predict Olympic medal chances, not one race series.
Sadly, Canada's performance in Schladming was less than ideal, but perhaps that is a blessing. Past world championships leading into Olympic events have been relatively successful and the subsequent Olympics devoid of medals, so this may be just what Canada needs.
Funding is critical to any programs success. There are simply no amateur programs winning medals in today's world. Although it may seem as though funding can nearly buy medals, it doesn't make the athlete's dedication and work any less difficult. It simply creates a framework that helps athletes capitalize on their abilities. No one can win alone.
It is my hope that the performance of Canada's skiers in Schladming will not hurt them with the funding bodies because, as patterns show, worlds are not the Olympics. Anything is possible in Sochi with athletes who are consistently reaching the Top 15 in World Cup events.
When analyzing a big event, one element that often gets overlooked is how coaches and those within the athlete's inner circle handle the stresses of a major event. An athlete must have a pulse on their own emotions, work with a psychologist, etc. However, those around the athlete may not even realize their own variances in behavior.
Just as athletes are human, so too are the coaches and support staff. Acknowledging the effect that support staff can have, both positive and negative, is an element Alpine Canada has worked hard on to encourage learning and growth. Just as an athlete's livelihood rests upon his/her performance, a coach's job may also rest upon the performance of the athlete.
At the end of they day, it is the athlete's responsibility to handle all that gets thrown at their way -- the expected and unexpected. Often, simply anticipating people around you to go a bit crazy helps. It can distance you from those emotions which are not your own and help you shrug them off.
Many top athletes travel nearly full time with an entourage of family and friends. Sadly, most Olympic athletes, especially Canadians, don't have the budget to make this happen -- that is, until the Olympics or worlds come along. It is then that family and friends will save up to make the journey wanting to cheer their loved one on.
I support athletes and their desire to surround themselves with those they love at big competitions (and more often, if possible). However, it takes a lot of communication and distinction of boundaries before, during and after events. With a good strong dialogue as a foundation, the positive effect that loved ones can have on your performance, when well harnessed, can be magical.
As complex as top performances are, it must be kept simple between the ears.
Just do what you do because that's all you can do.
Follow Kelly VanderBeek on Twitter @KellyVanderBeek