Toughening Up Elise Christie

Britain had high hopes that speed skater, Elise Christie, would bring home a medal from Pyeongchang.

Christie had previously competed at Vancouver in 2010 where she was unable to reach the top ten in any of her events. At Sochi in 2014, a medal buzz grew following her blistering form in the European Championships, but there was heartbreak instead. She was disqualified from the 500m final for colliding with the Italian, Arianna Fontana. In the 1500m event, Christie was disqualified for not crossing the finishing line. And in the 1000m semi-final, she was disqualified for a third time for colliding with Jianrou Li. The amount of harassment directed towards the speed skater on Twitter led her to close her account.

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Christie entered the 2018 Winter Olympics, as a double world champion and was nicknamed the fastest woman on ice. The speed skater was hailed as Team GB’s most likely medal winner. Christie started the Winter Games well, qualifying for the 500m easily and setting an Olympic record. In interviews, she was happy with her performance, saying she wasn’t even at her best yet. It wasn’t to be. Van Kerkhof’s skate clipped her hand and she crashed out. Despite finishing 1st in the 1500m event, Christie collided with Li Jinyu and was once again disqualified; the collision caused Christie an ankle injury which put her participation in the 1000m in doubt. She did compete in her heat, but fell before the first corner, meaning the race was restarted, then finished 2nd but was carried off in pain. Judges disqualified Christie for causing two separate collision incidents, putting any dreams of medals well and truly to bed.

So what’s next for Elise Christie?

Firstly, get off the ice. Recover from the injury and take some time away from the sport. She has confirmed she will be back for the 2022 Winter Olympics; if she qualifies, she will be 31 years old and that will likely be her last opportunity to show what she can do.

It’s time to rebuild and time to reassess. To face major competitions again, Elise needs to ensure she is mentally tough. Mental toughness can be described as the ability to achieve personal goals in the face of pressure from a wide range of different stressors; it encapsulates resilience, hardiness, tough-mindedness, and the ability to cope.

Why is it important? Mental toughness influences:

  • Attitude: people’s belief and commitments
  • Training: motivation, environmental control, able to push self to the limits
  • Competition: ability to handle pressure, self-belief, regulating performance, staying focused, and in control of thoughts
  • Post-competition: ability to handle failure or success

Elise has faced these hardships before and went into South Korea feeling much stronger than Sochi, but now she’s back to square one. Few athletes will experience the same number of devastations on the Olympic stage, and the worst outcome is for Elise to question whether all the hard work was worth it.

The good news for Elise is that she has shown her pace and shown she is capable of making the podium. Now, she must work on staying mentally tough to be able to withstand these setbacks; this can be achieved through many avenues.

Environment: Influence of parents, childhood background, and experiencing and surviving early set-backs

Character: Independence, self-reflection, resilience

Tough Attitudes: Exploit learning opportunities, go the extra mile, be willing to take risks, and set challenging targets

Tough Thinking: Able to think clearly and robustly about self-confidence

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In terms of Christie’s psychological development, it’s crucial that she continues to challenge herself and surrounds herself with the right support. There are four general dimensions to developing mental toughness:

1. Sport Process – this is hinged on training and competing: Elise must ensure training is consistent well-prepared, and simulates competition. Competitions should include both good and bad experiences, across different environments, and consistency should be achieved.

2. Sport Personnel – Coach; the coach should employ transformational leadership, instil hard work and discipline, and provide emotional support and motivation. Teammates; need to provide encouragement and rivalries as well as providing emotional support. Although Elise competes alone, she’s part of the speed skating team from Great Britain as well as the wider Team GB umbrella.

3. Non-Sport Personnel – Elise should look to parents, siblings, and her partner for motivation, encouragement, belief, and feedback.

4. The Environment – Within the training environment, hard work, competitive attitudes, and determination needs to be instilled. The family environment should display an interest in speed skating as well as promote hard work and a never give up attitude. Lastly, Elise needs someone she can model from – which is difficult when you’re the fastest woman on ice.

Can mental toughness really protect an individual from heartache when the pressure is so great?

There is an argument that the pressure placed on her by Team GB was just too much. Elise was expected to bring home a medal; a double world champion is expected to make the podium – but she choked, again. Sports is a business.

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Lizzy Yarnold & Laura Deas celebrate their skeleton medals

The women’s bobsleigh team had no funding and instead raised their own money to attend the games where they achieved Britain’s best ever result. Conversely, the men’s bobsleigh under performed – woefully – and their funding will likely be cut. Money has been ploughed into the skeleton with great results; Lizzy Yarnold defended her gold  medal and Britain achieved a men’s and a women’s bronze. What next for speed skating? It received close to £5 million in the run up to the games to achieve results, but was it worth it? UK Sport have said that they will not cut it, as long as Christie commits to Beijing 2022 as they still believe she has a chance of making the podium.

Elise Christie has proved she has the ability, now she needs consistency and the way to do that is ensuring mental toughness throughout all aspects of her life.

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The Winter Olympics & the NHL

We’re nearing the end of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and the hockey has not had the same shine. Despite attending since 1998, the commissioner of the National Hockey League, Gary Bettman, put a blanket ban on NHL players attending the 2018 Olympics. They argued that the league has no evidence that the Olympics have a positive impact on the business or the sport itself. They listed several, half-hearted reasons:

Money:

  • It’s not cost-effective to send players to the Winter Games
  • Star players are selected for the national team and if they get injured on international duty then it impacts their NHL team: Tavares, Zetterberg, Barkov, and Kopecky all suffered season-ending injuries in Sochi.
  • There’s a lukewarm reception for the NHL in Asia.
  • Player salaries are so good they are able to play for free at Olympics; there is an argument that this is a luxury they can only afford due to the league’s generosity.

Time: 

  • Bye-weeks have been introduced in the last couple of seasons to provide a mid-season break
  • Halting the season for almost a month for the Olympics, disrupts a season; the summer break for the Stanley Cup Final teams then becomes very short.
  • There’s no football or baseball on to compete with at this time of year and voluntarily making the league redundant during this time is a bad business move.

Rights: 

  • NHL doesn’t receive the rights to photos or videos from Olympic competitions therefore Crosby’s Vancouver golden goal and Oshie’s shootout heroics were unable  to be shown.

Already International:

  • The NHL had it’s own World Cup a couple of years ago
  • They’ve hosted “China Games” this season in Shanghai and Beijing
  • They’ve also announced European games in Sweden, Finland, and Germany

On the surface, the majority of these reasons are plausible ones to not attend the Olympics, but when you break it down, it is all about the money. Maybe that’s the way of professional sports, but it’s greedy and dispirited.

In previous years, the International Olympic Committee has paid for the travel expenses, insurance, and accommodation, but refused in 2018. The International Ice Hockey Federation offered $20 million in support, but this was refused then the NHL decided the Olympics isn’t profitable to the league.

Injuries do happen – even to star players – but they happen in league games, they happen in World Cup of Hockey games, they happen in China Games, and they happen in European Games. How many players, at the end of a season, come forward with a list of body parts that need repairs? Imagine if soccer teams denied their players the chance to play in the World Cup because they might get injured. The soccer season is littered with international games; players being injured in a friendly international game is frustrating but representing your country is an athlete’s highest honour.

If there’s no football or baseball to watch, would you switch to hockey? Or would you switch to the Winter Olympics that happens once every four years? Commentary on the Winter Games is meant for people who do not know the sport so can provide an easy introduction to it. What better place to showcase star players who are the big draws to the game!

The season is lengthened when the Winter Games are included, but a new team, the Vegas Golden Knights, has entered the league which has also lengthened the season; Seattle have proposed a team for the league too and that will likely come into effect in the next few years. For the players who are not selected to play for their country, the Olympics provides the opportunity to rest up and have injuries seen to, putting them in better stead for the run up to the play offs. The majority of league players will not attend the Olympics and the majority will not make it to the Stanley Cup final.

Pre-season has been brought forwards, with the inclusion of the China Games and the World Cup of Hockey; these are unnecessary NHL money-spinners that lengthen the season too. They’ve also decided to include the European games as part of the regular league; why not make these players have a 10 hour flight to Europe, play a single game, and fly back to North America! That makes a world of sense… Furthermore, although they have argued that the Olympics isn’t growing the game, it’s more likely that they do not directly receive the profits of these games hence why they’re “growing it on their own term$”.

The Winter Olympics is once every four years!!! FOUR YEARS!! The arguments about costs/season disruption/injuries are ones that are faced once every four years.

Finally, professional athletes are being denied the right to live out a dream of competing at the Olympics. However, this has provided lower league players the opportunity to live that dream. With the absence of power-house NHL roster Canadian and American teams, could it be that there is a more level playing field (or hockey rink)? Certainly, the Germans will be happy with their semi-final win over Canada, but the 36 million Canadians might not be.

Without a doubt, the hockey has been great – but it could have been outstanding with NHL players. That’s not meant to discredit the athletes in South Korea as many college players will go onto professional leagues, lots of ex-NHLers are in the rosters, and numerous other players are in professional leagues around Europe: the bulk of the Olympic Athletes from Russia team is made up of SKA St Petersburg players from the Kontinental Hockey League. But it’s so exciting to watch the faces of each franchise line up together as one team.

The take home message: if Gary Bettman isn’t lining his pockets then he ain’t interested.

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Gary Bettman at it again

BREAKING NEWS: Bettman is an idiot

The NHL has announced that they will not be participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics. They’ve released this statement on the matter:

We have previously made clear that while the overwhelming majority of our clubs are adamantly opposed to disrupting the 2017-18 NHL season for purposes of accommodating Olympic participation by some NHL players, we were open to hearing from any of the other parties who might have an interest in the issue (e.g., the IOC, the IIHF, the NHLPA, etc.) as to reasons the Board of Governors might be interested in re-evaluating their strongly held views on the subject. A number of months have now passed and no meaningful dialogue has materialized. Instead, the IOC has now expressed the position that the NHL’s participation in Beijing in 2022 is conditioned on our participation in South Korea in 2018. And the NHLPA has now publicly confirmed that it has no interest or intention of engaging in any discussion that might make Olympic participation more attractive to the clubs. As a result, and in an effort to create clarity among conflicting reports and erroneous speculation, this will confirm our intention to proceed with finalizing our 2017-18 regular season schedule without any break to accommodate the Olympic Winter Games. We now consider the matter officially closed.

It’s been met with staunch public outcry, and many players expressed their intention to participate in the games prior to this announcement. Jonathan Toews admitted that not allowing NHL players in the games  is “misrepresenting our sport on a pretty huge scale”. So far, Henrik Lundqvist is the most high profile player to release a statement since the announcement:

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For once, I agree with  ex-NHLer Brandon Prust

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Bettman vs the Olympics

What’s greater than representing your country in the Olympics? Skipping it and competing in the same league as per usual, according to NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman. Negotiations between the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) are fraught with tension. On the 21st March, the commissioner had this to say, in regards to the 2018 Winter Olympics:

Assume we are not going

We, being the NHL players who would be representing their countries in PyeongChang. The main issue is that because it falls in January/February, the NHL season must shut down for almost three weeks in the final push for the playoffs. The added weeks cause the season to lengthen… the final game of the Stanley Cup in 2014 was played on June 13th and the pre-season then began three months later on the 21st September. But it’s less than three weeks, once every four years… IT’S THE OLYMPICS. If they want to shorten the season then cut down on the number of games, collapse teams, remove the all-star game or the recently introduced bye week.

There is also a thinly veiled concern for “player injuries” – this is coming from a league that sparsely enforces its player safety, shows little consistency, displays favouritism, and has lawsuits against it from former players due to the effects of repeated concussions. I say their concern is not genuine because they do not show much concern for fourth liners, but because their star players are at the Olympics – the ones who draw in viewers and the cash – they worry about the size of their wallet.

This is terribly disruptive to our business

For big bosses like Bettman, hockey is just that, a business.

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Candid photo of Bettman guarding his gold

However, to players who have given their entire lives to this sport, the opportunity to represent their country on the biggest stage and win a gold medal means everything. IT IS THE DAMN OLYMPICS. Bettman is complaining about the costs involved in sending the players (around $15-20  million due to accommodation, charter costs, and insurance),but as the majority of these players are on contracts worth millions of dollars per year, I’m sure they’re capable of producing the money as individuals to have the chance to play for their country.

Take the Russian Machine, Alexander Ovechkin, for an example. He’s said that if the NHL refuses to send players then he doesn’t care and is going anyway. Ovi is the face of the Washington Capitals franchise and if he says “nope, I’m out” then others might follow suit. Caps owner, Ted Leonsis, has even given Ovi his blessing to go to the Olympics.

He knows I have his back on this one. If this is what’s so important to him and he wants to go to the Olympics, he should be able to do that. Alex has meant so much to us. He doesn’t ask for much back. I’m not shy about saying it, I would support the player in this instance.

And if Ovi goes, what if his team mate Backström decides he wants to play for Sweden? And if Crosby says he wants to win his third gold and leave the Penguins for three weeks? And if McDavid and Matthews want the opportunity to represent their country for the first time? Who will stand in their way?
Another of Bettman’s issues is that participating in the previous Olympics has had no benefits to the NHL. Olympic games would be broadcast in the morning in North America due to the time difference and in February, only hockey and basketball are the major sports on. It’s absolutely ridiculous. People will still tune into the Olympics no matter what time of day it is hosted.

We don’t get content for the NHL Network, we don’t get content for our social media platforms and NHL.com

GET OVER IT

Bettman pushed the World Cup of Hockey enough – a poor man’s replica of the Olympics – but hockey exists outside the NHL of course. Canada and the USA would most likely send teams made of AHLers, college athletes, or ex-NHLers. Russia could come with a very strong KHL team (and Ovi leading the way as an abdicator). But here is the real kicker… Bettman is keen to line his pockets with as much money as possible, or so it seems: With the arrival of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL has ANOTHER team in the desert. He also would like to penetrate the Chinese sports market because there is lots of cash to be had there. Guess who is hosting the Olympics in 2022… Cha-ching, China! The NHL planned to hold games every year there in the lead up to generate interest* in ice hockey, but Rene Fasel, head of the IIHF has declared:

If the NHL doesn’t come to Korea, they can’t just go to China.

Yikes! The greedy heads of the NHL could potentially shoot themselves in the foot and lose this lucrative Chinese market if they do not participate in the Korean Olympics.

That being said, the NHL didn’t agree to the Sochi Olympics until June 2013, so it is still up in the air… at least until Bettman stops throwing his dummy out of the pram.

*cash, you know it’s for cash. These new “fans” would have to watch games first thing in the morning… oh wait wasn’t that an argument against going to Korea?

 

Top 5 Olympic Moments

With the Olympics coming to a close, I thought I’d countdown my top 5 moments from the games. It’s been a truly great (and at times weird) event and one filled with many amazing times so narrowing it down has been tough… but here we go!

NUMBER FIVE

David Katoatau, a weightlifter from the small country of Kiribati, did a funky dance as he competed.

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But there was more to the dance. It raised his profile and hit the news.David has used this attention for more important matters,”Most people don’t know where Kiribati is. I want people to know more about us so I use weightlifting, and my dancing, to show the world. I wrote an open letter to the world last year to tell people about all the homes lost to rising sea levels. I don’t know how many years it will be before it sinks.” Kiribati lies only 6ft above sea level – by the 2048 its citizens may need to evacuate due to climate change and rising sea levels.

NUMBER FOUR

Simone Manuel. She became the first black woman to win an individual swimming medal when she tied with Penny Oleksiak in the 100m freestyle. This was huge! Two young women winning the gold was great enough, but for Simone it holds even more significance.

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Black people were prohibited from swimming in whites only pools in the US in the fifties. Dorothy Dandridge dipped her toe in a swimming pool to protest the segregation and the hotel drained the entire pool. This is why Simone’s win was so important.

NUMBER THREE

During the 5000m race, Abbey D’Agostino fell in agony and fellow runner/competitor Nikki Hamblin stopped to assist her – sacrificing her chances of a medal in favor of helping a competitor. D’Agostino encouraged Hamblin to continue running, but until a wheelchair could take her away, Hamblin refused to leave.

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2016 Rio Olympics – Athletics – Preliminary – Women’s 5000m Round 1 – Olympic Stadium – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – 16/08/2016. Nikki Hamblin (NZL) of New Zealand stops running during the race to help fellow competitor Abbey D’Agostino (USA) of USA after D’Agostino suffered a cramp. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.

Their sportsmanship received international attention and both women were awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal which has only been awarded 17 times in Olympic history. Sportsmanship > success.

NUMBER TWO

Usain Bolt and Andre De Grasse. Just two bros tearing up the track. Get you a man who looks at you like Usain looks at Andre.

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Canada’s Andre De Grasse, left, and Jamaica’s Usain Bolt smile at each other in a men’s 200-meter semifinal, during the athletics competitions of the 2016 Summer Olympics at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

NUMBER ONE

Ashton Eaton, two time Olympic decathlon CHAMPION. Truly incredible. He is also American. He is also married to Brianne Theisen-Eaton, bronze medal winner in this summer’s heptathlon, and a proud Canadian. However, when Ashton was spotted in a Canada hat, people complained…

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The married pair shut down the haters and rightly so. They give their all for their respective countries whilst loving and supporting the other.

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Now that’s love!

Okay… I lied. The greatest moment of all, was all the times team GB smashed it! I’m so proud of my country and the athletes that have represented our nation. Finishing 2nd in the medal table and improving on London 2012 is such a fantastic achievement! I’m a proud mama!

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With a gold medal for the women’s hockey, team GB won gold in 14 different sports… no other country managed 10!

Who Run the World? Girls!

The Rio 2016 Olympics are in full swing and we have some ladies who are completely tearing up the game. But why, when a man is an incredible athlete is his success attributed to himself, whereas a woman’s accomplishments are as a result of the men in her life? A woman cannot only be an athlete, it must also be mentioned that she is a wife or a mother.

Corey Cogdell-Unrien, a three time Olympian, recently won bronze in the women’s trap. It made the headlines because she is the wife of an NFL player. “Wife of a Bear’s linesman wins a bronze medal” – She has a name!

I definitely understand that people want equality for women and that we should be recognized for our own accomplishments and attributes outside of who we’re married to or what our husband’s or significant others have accomplished.

Katie Ledecky is destroying swimming records and her competitors. According to NBC commentator, Rowdy Gaines (what a name btw), she swims like a man. Why is it so difficult to acknowledge her ability without comparing it to a man.

Also in the swimming, Katinka Hosszu achieved gold in the 400m individual medley (and broke a world record) and Dan Hicks from NBC turned his attention to Hosszu’s coach/husband, reporting that he was the man responsible for her success. Yeah okay, a coach does play an important role, and as her husband he also provides her with emotional support, but she’s the one swimming!

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The list goes on. As team USA’s gymnastics team chatted on the side, one commentator noted they ‘may as well be standing around at the mall’. Yeah, you know, Olympic standard gymnasts have soooo much free time to spend at the mall. Not like these young women are spending 30 hours a week training and trying to maintain their education. Oh yeah, the team lead the competition by 10 points, pretty much a landslide win.

They are women. Some are mothers, some are young, some are married, some are gay. THEY ARE ATHLETES.