My Olympic Story
by Alex Wilson
I am going to tell you a story. In this story I will take you through my
triumphs and disappointments on my journey toward the Olympics. I hope through
hearing my story, each and every one of you will be able to have a more
positive outlook on your dreams and aspirations.
Five years ago, I was like mos kids graduating from high school. I was an
average student whoh enjoyed hanging out with my friends and having food
fights in the cafeteria. When it came to anythign athletic, my eyes would
light up and my heart would take over. I was a kid with a dream. When I
left high school I was on a mission. My mission was to make the U.S. Ski
Team and hopefully qualify for the Olympics.
Following is a piece of a letter I wrote to myself the last day of school
my senior year.
I am anxious to start my life in Colorado. I must buckle down and work
hard while I am out there -- whether I am in school or training. I have
to organize my goals and keep in shape over the summer -- even if it means
getting ridiculed by my friends -- but I couldn't care less because I am
going to think for myself and be confident!
Fortunately, this letter came to me when I was in a slump. Last year was
my worst year on the U.S. Ski Team. My world ranking dropped and many of
my goals were not fulfilled. I was not top 7 in the world and to
my surprise, I had not been chosen to compete at the World Championships,
like I wanted. Looking back at the great strides that I had made during
my rookie season on World Cup, these goals had not seemed far fetched. In
fact, even though I was not where I wanted to be, I was the fourth ranked
skier on the Ski Team going into World Championships and I thought that
I would receive the fourth spot on the World Championship Team.
Unfortunately, instead I had a big lesson in Elite Athletic Politics. When
my coach asked me to meet with him, I thought I was going to receive my
ticket to Japan (where World Championships were being held), but in reality
he was there to tell me that for no logical reason I was not chosen for
To say the least, I was crushed. Not being able to attain even one of my
goals made my year a complete flop. All the people that said, "watch out
for that sophomore slump" were right. I felt like my whole world had fallen
apart. I had no idea what to think; I had missed a turn on my road to the
Every year from the age of 14 I had improved. In my early years, in regionals
I went from top 10s to top 5s to winning. Then on to the U.S. Development
Team (Norams), similar to the minor leagues in baseball. There, with the
exception of an injury, I was top 3.
The following year I ended up 2nd at nationals, which earned me a spot on
teh U.S. Ski Team. Two years after graduation from Clarence I had flfilled
half of my mission. The other half, making the Olympic Team, would be even
harder. Once on the U.S. Ski Team I would be able to compete against the
best in each country every weekend on the World Cup Tour. This was the major
leagues of skiing.
I had an amazing rookie year on World Cup. I finished 4 times in the top
5, including one second, ending the year 12th in the world. To top things
off, I also received the World Cup "rookie of the year" trophy.
So after such a productive first year, how could I have done so poorly in
my second? Especially the year before the Olympics? I thought, for the first
time in my life, that I was a loser. My self confidence was totally blown;
I was the shell of a once confident and no-limits guy.
After hanging around the house for a while, I realized I needed to make
a new plan for how I was going to get to the Olympics. This time, however,
my plan was to be both political and athletic. This plan was to stay focused,
especially when times were tough.
Back home, I started reading my old training journals. I was searching for
something to help me get through this strenuous and critical time in my
life. Everything I ever worked for in skiing depended on my actions in the
I realized the main theme in all my training notes was the word "positive."
It was everywhere. Stay positive, think positive, find the positive, keep
a positive attitude. In a time when everything seemed negative, the only
thing that I had to rise above all the negativity was to keep a positive
attitude, no matter how small the positives may have been. And when the
negatives started to become overwhelming, I would read a special quote that
I would like to share with you that would restore my focus:
Attitude is more important than the facts. It is more important than
the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than what other
people think, or say, or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness
or skill. It will make or break a country, a relationship, a company,
a church, a home.
The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude
we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past. We cannot change
the fact that people will act a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable.
The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is
Life is 10% how you make it and 90% of how you take it, and so it is with
you...we are in charge of our ATTITUDE.
Still looking through old notes and videotapes I thought, "Well, last
year I was positive, even after every disappointing result" and things
didn't work out right. So I resumed my search, looking for another thing
that could go along with staying positive. By listening to old tapes of
Olympians and Olympic champions, I found the missing link. It was the
simple, yet easily forgotten fact that you must, above all, believe in
yourself. Through all my struggles I had lost sight of that.
When fall came around, I was ready. I knew no matter what challenges were
thrown in front of me, or how many variables I had to face, I could always
rely on 2 constants -- a positive attitude and confidence in myself.
In order for me to get to the Olympics, I had to earn a spot to compete
at the December World Cups in Europe. Our coaches eliminated people every
training camp to see who would get to go to Europe. But when November
came around, I still didn't know if I would be going. I figured if I had't
already been cut, my chances were pretty good, but I didn't know for sure.
I forced myself to train harder. I neve felt so much pressure in my life.
I felt like everything I said and did had a direct impact on whether I
would be going to the Olympics.
The rumors of who would and would not be going to Europe were flying.
By the last day of the last training camp I still didn't know whether
I would be going -- I was filled with so much anticipation that I couldn't
bear it any longer. It wasn't until my coach called me into his room while
I was packing up to go home that I found out. He just smiled at me and
laughed, pulling out a ticket from behind his back and handing it to me,
saying, "here's your ticket to Europe."
Finally, I had my spot to Europe, and my Olympic dreams, after 7 months
of training and waiting, once again looked promising.
Of course, there was still a lot of hard work ahead of me. In order for
me to stay in Europe and keep my Olympic Dream alive, I had to get a top
12 in the first World Cup. I knew I cold do it; all I had to do was stay
positive, believe in myself and concentrate on my skiing.
At the first World Cup, my semi final run was great. I ran fairly early,
so I had a long time to wait to see if I would get a top 12 result. When
my score came out, I couldn't believe my ears. I was in 2nd to last and
would be going home in defeat. I didn't understand; I thought I skied
great. My coach quickly informed me that my score was incorrect and that
something was wrong with the timing. Well, that was great, but to actually
get the French to fix it was another story. I again was on a mision; there
was no way I was going to miss out on a top 12 result because of a timing
About an hour after they fixed the error and corrected the score, I was
now in 10th place, with about 15 skiers left to go. This is the hardest
part of competing -- waiting to see where you end up. My Olympic Dreams
would be determined in the next few minutes.
Before I knew it, I was in 12th position with 5 skiers left to go. Then
it all came down to the lsat skier, which unfortunately happened to be
an American. This is a tough predicament, because you want your teammate
to do well, but you don't want him to beat you. As I was standing at the
bottom of the hill, holding nervously to my skis, I watched my teammate
falter and almost fall. I had done it. I was in the finals and the worst
I could finish now was 12th. I had achieved another step toward my Olympic
Well, it turned out that my great achievement that day didn't end up carrying
much weight. The coaches decided to keep the other skiers in Europe anyway,
even though they didn't qualify under the U.S. Ski Team's criteria and
finish in the top 12.
At that point, I could have gotten very aggravated with my coaches. It
seemed as if everything I had achieved the day before now meant nothing.
However, I decided that showing my frustration wouldn't help anyone. Besides,
there were a ton of positives I could get out of my performance, and I
didn't want to ruin them by dwelling on the negatives.
After a couple of mre events in Europe, we returned home to probably the
most important contest leading up to the Olympics -- the Gold Cup. The
winner was to receive a spot on the Olympic Team (plus $10,000). It was
a huge opportunity, but I decided to treat it like any other contest.
I just went out to ski my best, and to my surprise I ended up winning
and was awarded the first spot on the 1998 Olympic Moguls Team.
After a couple of days in the Olympic Village, it was time to "get down
to business." Some athletes, when they get to the Olympics, are content
with just getting there, and lose all focus once they are there. I was
determined not to let that happen. I had worked too hard to just be content
with participating. I wanted to make sure that I did everything I could
to give myself the best opportunity to compete my best.
Amont my biggest distractions was a nagging groin pull that I had developed
two weeks prior. This injury would continue to worsen throughout the Olympics.
I had to keep up a constant maintenance program in order to take care
of the injury.
The day I had been waiting for since I was a little kid had finally arrived.
This was it. As I went up the chair, I reflected on everything I had been
through -- the disappointments of my performance the year before, the
grueling training camps, and all the feelings of anxiousness and anticipation.
I felt I was ready.
At the top of the course, it felt like every other World Cup, except there
was an energy about it that was different. You knew that this was something
bigger. As I slid out from behind the starting tent, my eyes were greeted
by 15,000 screaming Japanese spectators. I was nervous, but I knew I could
do it. I had earned this moment. I went through my normal pre-competition
rituals, visualized my fun, warmed up my legs...and I was ready to go.
I pushed out of the gate, yelling at myself inside my head like I usually
do. "Come on, let's do it!" I was inthe momen -- exactly where an athlete
wants to be.
27 seconds later I was at the bottom, hands raised, and feeling good about
my performance. At that point, I didn't care what my score was. I had
given it everything, and regardless of the score I would be content. My
score came in. I was in 5th place for th moment. I would only drop down
5 places by the end. I had made the Olympic finals.
At the end of 2 more days of training and waiting, it was finals day.
It was a beautiful day -- warm and sunny. The weather and excitement of
the crowd overwhelmed any feelings of nervousness. My plan for finals
day was to just go with the flow. Whatever I felt, I would accept and
just go with it. After some visualization, I simplypushed out of the gate
and let it go. I stll had to yell at myself internally, but I was mainly
on auto pilot.
Crossing the finish line, I didn't really know what to think. The excitement
of the crowd hit me like nothing I had ever experienced. They were going
crazy. Flags waving, people screaming, it was everything I would have
imagined and more. I had done it. As the cameraman said, 5 seconds and
you can speak to 120 million people. I wanted to say hi to the place and
the people I knew at home. I said, "Hello to Buffalo" along with my girlfriend
and some of my oldest friends who were watching.
That was it, my moment in the sun. 26 seconds of skiing which I had dreamed
about and worked for for so long. It was all over. Little did I know,
or my parents know, that when they clicked me into those sawed-off skis
at Holiday Valley when I was 3 years old, that 20 years later I would
be representing our country in the Olympics.
I believe that if you think positive, plan your way and, most importantly,
believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything in life. People get so
wrapped up and intrigued by Olympians because they know our stories and
we're on TV. I believe there is a greater Olympics, and that is the Olympics
of life. There are about 5.1 billion participants, and the best part is
that everyone can be a winner.
They just have to believe.