The Olympics kick off Friday in PyeongChang, and my life has been tied to the Olympics since the beginning, particularly the Winter Games. I was born during the 1984 Winter Olympics held in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. On the night I was born, Bill Johnson became the first American man to win an Olympic gold medal in alpine skiing when he won the downhill. He was the first racer (male or female) from outside the Alps to win an Olympic downhill.
My parents have told me this story since childhood, and as a kid, my favorite Olympic sport was alpine skiing. I practically lived on our local ski hill throughout the winter and raced throughout high school. When the Winter Olympics came around every four years, I was captivated seeing the world’s best skiers. In 1998, I remember watching Jonny Mosley win Gold for the USA in Men’s Freestyle Skiing, moguls. He nailed a trick that no one else was doing at the time -- a 360 mute grab. After seeing that, my friends and I spent the rest of the ski season perfecting our own version of that trick and during the summers we’d even practice variations of it on the trampoline.
When I was 16, I didn’t even own a road bike. It’s a little crazy to think I ended up being an Olympian at the Summer Games on the road.
I got the call saying I was selected to represent the USA at the 2016 Rio Games when I was in the French Alps (Morzine). We were dealing with some suboptimal weather at a pre-Tour de France altitude training camp. I was doing my best to stay composed and wait for the news. I was on the trainer in the chalet basement when I got the message that I was in and would be an Olympian. I envisioned this moment so many times, but the excitement and accomplishment that I felt completely surpassed everything I anticipated.
I’m sure the Olympic Village is different between the Summer and Winter Games (it was really hot in Rio when we arrived!), but I think the atmosphere and solidarity within Team USA are the same.
The Village is a bit like college dorm life with the main difference being that some of the most talented, accomplished and interesting people I’ve ever met where all there. Everyone was excited, happy, and clearly proud to represent the USA.
The nation’s best athletes were all living and eating together. It was obviously a competitive environment and not the norm for any of us. At the Summer Games, there were pro basketball players, high-profile swimmers, etc. The equalizer –regardless if you were from a niche sport or a super famous athlete-was that we were all on the same team. We were there for the same reason, and you could definitely feel the bond and connection between all the athletes.
That’s what makes the Olympics so special. You couldn’t simulate that camaraderie in any other environment but the Olympics.
And I might still be that teenager who gets pretty excited to watch the alpine skiing events. Go Team USA!