Brian's Olympic Diary from Calgary - USA Today

Figure skater Brian Boitano has written an exclusive diary for USA Today during the Olympics.

Days of Jitters & Joy

You live your young life dreaming a lot about being a medal contender in an Olympic Games. It's funny how reality is different from the daydreams of a child.

Looking back to four months ago, and how I imagined the week before the Olympics would feel, I can't decide if it was harder or easier than I thought It's such a fine line.

I have to admit it's been fun - fun in a different sense. I think athletes thrive on this kind of challenge. It's amazing to stand outside yourself, look from a distance, and see all the fuss going on. In our hearts, it's another competition in which we have to do well.

I've had friends that I haven't seen in years send me good luck wishes. People at home, a week before you leave, say, "We've got to get together before you go."

I don't understand. I'll be home in two weeks, and I'll be the same person. You can't wait two more weeks, after not having seen me in two years? It's funny, almost, like you're going to die or something.

But for me, all the allention given to the event makes me focus even harder and become even more withdrawn, in order not to become a part of all the hype. One of the hardest things is when you get through with a

hard day's work, and relax in front of the TV, and on comes a commmercial for ABC Sports' presentation of the Olympics - with you on it. You just can't get away. So I Just laugh at it. That's a good way of releasing tension, too,

I said this was fun. How many people have a chance to challenge themselves at this level? Whatever happens, at least I've had the chance in my life.

I think in some cases people mistake anticipation for nerves. As for me, I don't know what my life would be like without the big-time nerves. I'm so used to them they're a part of me. But I better get used to the idea because after

challenging yourself with something as exciting as the Olympics, and having all of America supporting you, you wanting to do your best-for yourself and for them- I'm scared everything else will be ho-hum. Maybe the '92 games? That's a whole different can of worms that I'll discuss later. Too many gray hairs away.

 

A man holding onto childhood

CALGARY - I was standing outside of my patent's house recently, saying my final goodbyes to my best friend, Lisa. She is in Calgary, but more than likely I won't see her until my events are finished.

We were reminiscing about our childhood. I've been doing a lot of that lately.

When you're haunted by one of the biggest challenges of your adult life, it's only natural that you reflect on a time that was carefree.

Almost everything around my parents' neighborhood reminds me of my childhood. It's my nucleus. Childhood reminds me of skating, and in thinking back all those years, it's startling to realize that a lot of your life has been dedicated to this craft.

You know that soon you'll have to move on, but there's still that child in you that wants to hold on to what's happening to you now.

Seeing that boy who dreamed of some day standing on the podium at the Olympics, I think is the life I've lived for the last 16 years coming to a close this week? It seems a waste of time to live that long for only a week of your life.

So I don't. Your life isn't decided by what happens in a single week.

I was brought up thinking my life would change as I became successful in this sport. When you're a kid, you live day-by-day, knowing that you have time to show the world.

In your late teens and early 20s, you've been successful, but not exactly all that you've wanted. You're fifth in the world, but you need to be first.

At age 20, you make a deal with yourself. Stick it out try your damnedest; never give up. If it doesn't work out in the end, it will be for a reason.

You stick it out and within three years you're a world champion. Dreams come true. Your life will change now, right?

Wrong. You live for months wondering what a champion is supposed to be like: how to act, what to say. Then finally one day, the biggest surprise of all - nothing changes. You're not supposed to be different from anyone else. What pressure is taken off. Thank God I don't have to be special. I can just go and do my job.

So you end up the way you started as a kid, knowing you should just enjoy it a day at a time and work for daily successes instead of medals.

After all, if you're giving as much as you can give of yourself to being the very best you can be, you are a success.

I never knew quite how to explain that feeling when I was a kid, but that's how I felt. And now, at age 24, I'm 10 again.

 

Learning to turn a failure into success

Know first what to expect from yourself

 

CALGARY - Reporters keep asking me if I meant what I said in the months following the 1987 World Championships, if I were really glad that I lost the title.

What I meant is that I felt I learned a lot about myself because of losing the world championship (to Brian Orser). I sought a different route to try to become a better skater. I don't think I would have done that if I had won in Cincinnati.

Because of that experience, I feel right now that I couldn't be doing any better. Ultimately, that should be every skater's goal.

When compulsories starting this morning, I've thought a lot about the situation Scott (Hamilton) faced in 1984, when he was expected to win. But Ive decided that, for me, it makes no difference what the expectations might be.

Whether I'm a shoo-in or I have to fight for it, the focus is the same.

Regardless of whether other people expect something from you, you have to know first what to expect from yourself.

As for the judges, they do pay closer attention to the top skaters. But you have to keep in mind that their job is to place people according to where each deserves to be. They're nervous, too, because they have to get everybody in line, all 30 skaters.

That's why it's funny that everyone is so focused on the Battle of the Brians. Sasha.- that's Alexandre Fadeev's nickname - Is a wonderful skater. I hate to see him being shortchanged. He's just a great skater, and he can put it all together when he has to.

The press is always curious about what we do during a competition. Even if you don't watch someone's performance, there is no way you can't know how they skate. You can tell from the crowd.

Even if you stay backstage, you can't get away from it. You can run showers or wear headphones, but it doesn't matter. You find out some guy in 21st place always runs into the dressing room and says "Wow, that guy was awesome."

So you just deal with it. You have to. How someone else skates shouldn't make a difference.

 

Drawing a circle of friendship

Figure skaters share rooms and chats

 

CALGARY - Opening ceremonies were great. A lot of American flags were waving up in the stands. It was all of the good-luck wishes - not the cold - that gave me chills Saturday.

There was so much support for our country, so I've never been prouder to be an American than at that moment. There is a lot more mingling by athletes here than I remember in Sarajevo at the 1984 Games. I really don't remember meeting too many athletes there. Here, we are always meeting someone new. Maybe it's because all of the male athletes like to come over to our table at the cafeteria to sit closer to our figure-skating women. I understand. We have a great cast.

I've been living in the Olympic Village for less than a week, and I'm getting comfortable with the setup. There are three floors in our dorm- with athletes from different sports spread all over the place.

All the male figure-skaters share one small apartment as do the women. There are four bedrooms; each is shared by two guys. There is a kitchen, living room and cable TV with special channels that allow athletes to watch practices at different venues during the day.

We all get along - as do the women - and we feel more like a bunch of fraternity brothers in a.training camp rather than competitors preparing for one of the most special weeks of our lives.

The girls are always visiting. We spend quite a bit of time laughing. This is definitely one of the best teams I have ever been on. There is no time to really get nervous. We're too busy having fun.

Even though we have to deal with everyone's schedule and havoc, it makes you think of others at a time when your focus is so much on yourself.

The first day I arrived, I was taken directly to the Olympic Village with the other team captains, where we met to elect a flag bearer for the opening ceremonies. All sports nominate one person from their team, tell a little bit about them and why he or she would represent our country well.

By now you know we chose biathlete Lyle Nelson.

Right now, we are psyched for the pairs, competition that started Sunday night. A great comaraderie exists among us, and it's enhanced by spending so much time together. We all understand presure and each skater's competitive situation.

I think all in all, we are in for a good two weeks.

 

Comfort in the roar of the crowd

 

CALGARY - Some strange things happened Wednesday.

In the middle of my first compulsory figure in the morning, people started applauding. That's never been done. I've heard applauding for a national champion at a national event. But I thought it was really nice. They were applauding for the Koreans for everyone.

It was different. I've never seen so many people at an Olympic figure event or at any figure event for that matter.

In a way, it made me feel a little less nervous. In another way, it made me want to stay even further away from the walls because people were asking for autographs while I was trying to warm up.

But these people are so gungho on the Olympics, so that was great. Everyone was really getting into it, and they stayed for quite a while. I would have been gone a long time before they were. The way the bleachers in Father David Bauer Arena are set up, looking down on the ice, you can really see the geometrics of each figure. They were interested in that.

At the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, I don't think the public was allowed into the figure events.

The arena was very small, and the bleachers went straight out so watching the figures wasn't very interesting. During the warmups, I went over to my coach, Linda Leaver, to get some feedback from her on my figures. Instead of feedback, I got some pen and paper.

This woman said, "Mr. Boitano, Mr. Boitano," and she held this pen and program out to me. I just looked at her. I've never had anyone ask for an autograph in that situation.

Then a little girl dropped a pen on the ice, but I knew I couldn't go over and pick it up.

Knowing me, I would have stood there and signed an autograph right before I was supposed to skate.

Before a figure, you look at the referee, look for his OK and then you start.

After I did that Wednesday, I looked down at the ice and somebody yelled, "Go Brian!" I thought I was at a hockey game or something.

But that's okay. It's good to get used to every kind of crowd. And I think it really did ease the tension.

 

Just one goal: To do my best

 

CALGARY - I had already decided that coming to Calgary for the Winter Olympics would be the hardest two weeks of my life.

But I said: "OK, it's only going to be two weeks. You're going to put up with it you're going to die every day and you're going to be nervous."

I just figured I would have to Put up with it, just go through it.

The best way to handle pressure at a competition like this is to accept it and just do it.

One of the hardest things to deal with is being one of the last to skate. There are all of these people around you who are so happy and relieved. They're finished, but you're still waiting.

Even a week down the road, I won't care if I skated 22nd or 25th (out of 30 skaters); I'll only care if I succeeded at what I was trying to do.

I'm not saying this is the worst two weeks of my life, just the hardest. But it can be the hardest and best two weeks I've ever experienced. It depends on how you treat it though. If it's the hardest and you do your best, then it is the best week.

When it's over, you can say, "Hey, I can really do this." And I'll know that no matter what things face me in life, I can do them. I'll be confident that if I can do this, if I can skate well during the Olympics, everything else is cake.

Because I've been skating for so many years, some people might think that I'll be relieved to get on with my life when I retire. They probably think I've missed some things along the way, like being a kid. But that has never bothered me. I think skating is a sport where you have to be very grown-up at an early age. You have to know how to treat people, you have to know how to mingle with adults.

When I join the business world, I will have some of the know-how and experience of being an adult. Hopefully I'll feel confident with that.

But as I look back the thing that humbles me the most is thinking of all the great skaters I came up with through the ranks, in novice, in, juniom, then seniors. So many were so talented, so good. And it all filtered out to be me.

It's just really amazing, I don't know why I was chosen.

 

Telegrams abound

 

CALGARY - I have gotten hundreds of telegrams, mostly from people I don't even know. It was so nice for people to say they really were proud of me being an American.

The feeling hasn't really sunk in that Ive won a gold medal because I don't think it's had a chance. It's hard being pulled every which way, but there have been times when I have been looking at telegrams or just lying in bed or just doing simple things that I have a chance to sit back and say, "God, I just won a gold medal!"

I haven't really talked to many people outside of the Olympic Village, other than for interviews.

It is funny because I guess word was out that I was in the hospital, and people were calling from all over asking people which hospital I was in. I was just basically staying in bed and just resting all day.

Then, I was fortunate enough to be able to get out of bed Monday to go watch Bonnie Blair win the USA's second gold medal of the Olympics. I had never been to a speedskating event before, and lt's so fast, and it's such a great sport.

It was just great for me to be able to see Bonnie win the medal. It's an absolutely different sport than figure skating. It happens so quickly.

Now, she has to get ready for two more events, and I think in that respect it would be hard, too. I saw Bonnie Tuesday morning, and I said ' "Congratulations, I saw you win your medal," in a very crackly voice. She gave me a hug and she said, 'Yeah, I heard you were there when you were supposed to be in bed."

But I kind of had the feeling that she was going to win a gold medal, and I really wanted to be there when another American won the gold medal. To me it doesn't matter if we win more medals. I just want to support them.

I believe America is proud of its athletes. That's what's inspired me by what I've seen in my telegrams. More than winning I think people have been saying that you've represented your country well, and we're very proud of you.

I think that's more important than winning medals so I'd like to let the other sports know that we're proud of them and that we think that they're champions no matter what.

 

Women worried about skating last

 

CALGARY Looking ahead to women's figure skating, I think they are amazing. I hear they are all skating very well. I think the competition has come at a hard time in the Games; you know, the last big event.

For me, it's nice to be able to sitback and let them know that I'm there for their support. I've talked to them - Debi Thomas, Jill Trenary and Caryn Kadavy - and I want to be there for every event for them.

It was real1y hard for them sitting there, watching other Americans win medals. They were so happy for them,winning the medals, but theyreally want one too.

So I think, in that way, it was difficult for them to sit back and watch. But no more. The competition's started.

They were always worried about skating the last week in the Olympics, and they were jealous of us skating in the first week, but I said, "In another year, you won't even care who skated in the first week and the second week." I think that's the only way to go about it

I think we have a great chance for medals in women's figure skating. lt's going to be a great competition, and you're gonna see a lot of relieved vomen when it's over.

When it's over, I think they're going to have a great let down as I've had. And it will be hard to get up for the world championships in Budapest. But I've already started skatmg again, feeling what it's like to come back when you're an Olympic champion.

The Olympic Village has been a real haven for me. It has a humbling effect on you, being around your team members and other people who are involved in the Games. It's not the same as when you go out in public.

But the big joke is the bobsled team and me. They knew I had lost my voice and had laryngitis for awhile. So, they would come over and say, "Hey, congratulations, nice going," and when I couldn't answer them, they would jokeingly say "Well great, he won a gold medal, and he can't talk to the bobsled team now. "

So, I am relieved to get my voice back so that I could let them know that I'm the same person that I was before, which they knew already. They're a great group of guys, and they're a whole lot of fun.

 

Nerves build on figure skaters day off

 

CALGARY - Katarina Witt and Debi Thomas are two of the most mentally tough female skaters in the world. They're both out there to fight for that gold medal, so you know that no matter what happens, no one is going to give up.

So, whoever wins has just been on that night. They'll fight until the bitter end.

There is a type of relief that is nice after Thursday's short program, but during the night the nerves start to build.

You're nervous for the draw because that's very important where you skate, whether you skate near the end which is best for marks.

The nerves really build up on the day off. I think the emotions and nerves that Debi will have prior to the long program started right after Thursday's short program.

It's not quite as intense as what will happen Saturday, but the nerves definitely are building because you want to do a run through the long program on your day off.

You won't ever go through a long program in your final practices; you just do sections or jumps or whatever you personally like. And you don't really want to overdo the warm-up, either. you just want to do everything so that it's still fresh.

People don't like to skate first, but about second and third is usually where its best because you warm-up and then pretty much go right out.

The two hardest times of the whole competition will be right before they step on the ice Saturday, about halfway through the person's program who skates right before you, and during warm-up.

Once you get to that point you think, "Gosh, it's almost over, just keep concentrating and within a half-hour I'm gonna be done, and I'm gonna be out of here!"

You don't want to forget Jill Trenary and Caryn Kadavy because they are such strong skaters. I hate to even be talking so much about Witt and Thomas because Trenary and Kadavy are just hot skaters.

They deserve a lot of recognition for what they'll undertake. You can be sure their programs will be just as good as anybody's in the top three.

All the way down through No. 10, I think you'll be in for the best long-program event ever in the women's Olympic figure skating.

 

Olympics cast an inspiring light

CALGARY- I know the women figure skaters are so relieved the competition is over, especially Debi Thomas. What happened?

I think it's relly hard to keep your motivation going when you miss the first difficult element of your program.

It's just so hard when you make a mistake to fight against your mind because it says "OK, I give up, that's it, that was a mistake and I made it."

Your mind is so in control, it's so hard to keep focused. It's so hard to keep your mind on a leash after a mistake and really be powerful

These two weeks have just been so exhausting for Debi. And skating last, it's kind of like a build up. You are just so tired by the time you get to skate, it's almost like you have no fight left.

I don't know what went through her mind, but that first thought is: I'm glad it's over.

It was hard, too, because Elizabeth Manley skated so well.

I think Caryn Kadavy would have done really well, too. But I would have rather seen Caryn withdrawl than go out there and try to do something that she didn't have the strength to do.

She's got a big career ahead of her. It's not going to ruin anything with the next Olympics for her.

And Jill Trenary? It's hard for her, too, but fourth is a great set-up. She wasn't happy with how she skated, she would have liked to have been better.

But you can't pooh-pooh a fourth place.

After today, I'm resting and skating. I want to start training Tuesday, get into a regular schedual. A lot of decisions and a lot of things to do before world championships in March. I'm already really psyched.

It's been a week now since I won the gold medal. It's still the strangest feeling.

Famous people or non-famous people, it's just so funny to think that people in America watched it and were inspired by you. It's just wierd.

It's nice being an inspiration, but after being with Dan Jansen and how inspirational he was I feel like he's a saint.

I was just so enlightened by this whole thing - the Olympic experience.