Every athlete is different. Every athlete deals with pressure and stress differently. Some give into it. Some thrive on it. And some seem to be oblivious to it.
Dean Brenner Team Leader US Olympic Sailing Team, Qingdao, Beijing 2008
I have a daily routine when I am at big events like the Games. I make a point of walking each athlete and their boat down to the boat ramp, and giving them a fist bump or a hug or a pat on the back before they shove off for the day. I like to be that last smiling face they see before they compete, and I like to let them know I have confidence in them. I like to think it helps them.
So, yesterday, at bout 12:32pm, I walked Anna Tunnicliffe and her Laser down the boat ramp for the Laser Radial Medal Race at the 2008 Olympic Games. This was a big moment. Anna was on the verge of her first Olympic gold medal, at her first Olympic Games, but it would not be easy. Gold medals never are, especially when the air is light, the current is strong and the points are still close. Yesterday was not going to be easy.
On this walk, I'm doing my very best to convey a sense of calm and cool that she can feed off. I want to be that rock for her, that cool influence that makes it all a little easier. And we are walking... and walking... and I realize that neither of us is actually saying anything. Total silence. Awkward moment. So I'm reaching for just the right words to say.
I'm trying to own my little slice of this moment, and say something that she will remember and I'll be proud to have said. And then... nothing. Absolutely nothing. I've nothing to say. Sweet, Dean. Way to own the moment, brother.
So, Anna senses all of this, I'm sure, and she does what the great ones do. She grabs the moment and takes control, with a huge smile on her face. 'Hey Dean, you nervous?' I wanted to say, 'no, not at all, Anna' with total confidence. She set me up to grab back control of the moment, and I flubbed it again. I think I stammered through a weak attempt at confidence. I really don't remember. Nice job, Team Leader!
This comically awkward moment - remember... I'm there to help her, right? - ended with our standard fist bump, and a quick hug, and then Anna nimbly jumped on to her boat and looked back at me with a smile and said 'Don't worry, Dean, I'll take care of this for you.' She was owning her moment. Thank god one of us was!
Sure sounds like I added a lot of value, doesn't it! :)
Anna went out and finished second in her race, won the gold and made us all proud. It was a crowning moment on these Games for Team USA, and yet another moment for me to be proud of these athletes. Anna sailed beautifully all week, always conservative, always in the front of the pack, avoiding the big mistakes that eventually took all of her competitors down a notch. Hers was a gold medal performance from start to finish.
But what I find most remarkable about Anna was what I saw as we walked down the boat ramp yesterday. She was totally comfortable in the moment. The moment was hers, and she was not going to let it go. When you have the honor to be Team Leader at a Games, you get the front row seat to what is really happening. And beyond all the other stuff that a TL has to do, and much of it ain't fun, these little moments with our athletes are the good stuff. These are the moments when you get to see what is really happening, and how people really tick.
Yesterday was a great day for Team USA. We are all proud of Anna, and the whole team met her at the dock and joined her for her medal ceremony. It was a great moment for Anna, and for all of us.