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 the Team.

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 Olympics.

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 coming months.

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


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 our ATTITUDE.

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 mishap.

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 Dream.

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.