Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 23rd 2016 Contents The divers were warming up,
getting ready for the biggest
moment in their lives when, out of
nowhere, a man in a blue tutu
rushed to the ladder, ran to the edge
of the board and swan-dived into
the pool. Nobody saw that one
The Olympics may be the most
important event swimmers, runners,
weightlifters and the like will ever
compete in, but that doesn t make
As the ongoing stories out of Brazil
about Zika and poor water quality
have shown, elaborate planning for
the most grandiose of sporting
events does not guarantee everything
will run as expected.
Which is why, as much as they
train on the track, in the pool or the
weight room, athletes also spend a
lot of time getting ready for the out-
of-the-blue occurrence that nobody
A fan jumps over the barrier and
tackles a marathoner; the vault gets
set too low, causing chaos in a gym-
nastics meet; a rainstorm hits on a
snowboarding course. On and on
the scenarios go. Nobody could ve
predicted any of them.
Decathlete Ashton Eaton first set
the world record at the Olympic
track trials in 2012, where most of
the events were held in steady rain.
Eaton s American teammate Trey
Hardee said the conditions equate
to "an 11th event."
"Every athlete out there tries to
act like that stuff doesn t bother
them, but it does," Hardee said.
At the US Olympic Committee s
headquarters, sports psychologist
Karen Cogan works with dozens of
athletes, helping them prepare to
deal with the unexpected when their
moment comes in Rio.
"It s not so important that we nail
the things that are going to happen,
but it s the process about going
through the what-ifs, and what
would you do," Cogan said. "That s
something they take with them, and
then they re ready to deal with what-
ever comes their way."
A sampling from a very long list
• In 2000, a startling number of
gymnasts ran up to the Olympic
vault during the women s all-around,
did the jump and landed on their
backsides. Scores were alarming low.
After half the gymnasts had gone,
organisers realised the vault had been
set two inches too low. Gymnasts
were given a chance to redo their
vault but some had already moved
on to the next event and scored
poorly there, thinking their chances
at a medal were doomed. "Definitely
a hard thing to bounce back from,"
American gymnast Elise Ray said.
"It affects your frame of mind."
• In 2004, a defrocked priest in
a red kilt leaped onto the course and
grabbed the race leader, who had
trouble regaining his bearings and
"If you stop in a marathon, you
struggle the next three or four kilo-
metres. It s hard to get your rhythm
back," said bronze medalist Vanderlei
de Lima of Brazil.
That incident came only a few
days after the man in a tutu and
clown s shoes disrupted the spring-
board diving finals by climbing to
the top of the platform and jumping
in the pool. Also that year, gymnas-
tics fans booed for ten straight min-
utes to voice displeasure with a high-
bar score given to Russian superstar
Alexei Nemov, leaving Paul Hamm
pacing and waiting to start his rou-
tine. "I felt like I was in a movie,"
• At the Winter Games in 2010,
snowboard riders woke up to a rain-
storm and heavy fog in the moun-
tains outside Vancouver. Rider after
rider wiped out on the soaking-wet,
glasslike parallel giant slalom course.
Had it been a World Cup event,
"they probably would have cancelled
it," American Tyler Jewell said. "But
this is the Olympics."
• In 2012, a spectator threw a
plastic bottle onto the track
moments before the gun went off
in the 100 metre final. It didn t both-
er Usain Bolt, or anyone racing
against him. "When they say, On
your marks, that s when the focus
starts," he said.
Indeed, much of the mental train-
ing for these athletes involves block-
ing out distractions, no matter how
bizarre or difficult they may seem.
When it comes to Zika or the dirty
water in Brazil, Cogan said American
athletes have to trust that the prepa-
rations have been made and they ve
been briefed on the pros and cons
of competing. Among her techniques
is teaching "mindfulness," which
allows athletes to live more in the
moment, not get caught up in pos-
itives and negatives of certain things
that can happen. It involves med-
itation, and can be used in many
walks of life, including sports.
"You can see how that s helpful
in competition, when they re dis-
tracted by somebody else, or some-
thing going on in the stands, or
there s some delay of some sort,"
Cogan said. "They want to regain
their focus so their performance
isn t affected. It s a learned skill, and
something they have to practice in
competition and develop as part of
their skill set."
Eaton, who broke his own world
record last year at world champi-
onships, says he knows strange
things could happen, but focusing
on his performance is the best
"Anything you can t control, you
just say, To hell with it, I can t do
anything about it, " he said. (AP)
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Monday, May 23, 2016
When weird things happen,
Olympians rely on mental training
Ron Bensimhon, of Montreal, jumps into the diving pool, interrupting the
Men's three-metre synchronised springboard diving event at the 2004
Olympic Games in Athens. The Olympics may be the most important event
many swimmers, runners, weightlifters and the like will ever compete in,
but that doesn't make them perfect. As the ongoing stories out of Brazil
about Zika and poor water quality have shown, elaborate planning for the
most grandiose of sporting events does not guarantee everything will run
"as expected." AP PHOTO
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