I believe there is a point in ski racing where there is a subtle shift between technical/tactical maturity and mental attitude. It is the point where you reach great potential in your technical aspect of skiing, when in racing, the reason for your improved results comes not from a good line or solid pole plant, but from the thoughts going on inside your head.
Bode Miller was ridiculed by coaches a thousand times over at the beginning of his career, (and still is at times now), for his unconventional style and uncontrolled skiing technique. Yet he is the most successful American male alpine skier to date. Yeah, a lot of that had to do with a great understanding of line, and how to be fast but I also think a good deal of what makes him great is his mental attitude. He won over 30 Wold Cups because he believed he could. Because he believed he was the best. And that made him the best.
You can train like a champion all you want. But if you get into that starting gate on race day and don’t think you are a champion… well then someone else will be. I am not saying you have to be first, but you have to believe in yourself and in your skiing. Bode isn’t always fastest in training. But the people who beat him on training days fail to step up when it counts because they are afraid of failure.
I raced the first Nor-Am slaloms of the season the last two days. Best word to describe my performance would be “mediocre.” First race was okay, I don’t want to be peaking right now after all! I moved up from 45th to 23rd and I was not bummed, nor psyched. Reviewing video that night was a small bummer because who I saw there was not the “champion” I knew from training.
Next day, (today), I decided to change that. Front of the boot, narrow up the stance, keep it in the fall line. I still dropped the inside hand on the pitch and chundered a few gates which is extremely frustrating not skiing as well as you know you can, but I moved up that run from 42nd to 15th. I was fast where I needed to be and I was psyched on the move. A lot of other people were psyched on my run as well and there was a lot of positive energy going on.
Second run, not so much. I made mistakes I shouldn’t have and my technique was sloppy. I think, subconsciously, I was so psyched on the positive energy I became afraid to lose it. And what do you know, the disappointment was palpable after my second run performance. I was afraid to fail so I failed to step up and deliver another solid run.
Race day is mental. Pure and simple. When you are racing at this level, I would say 95% of the field does not have any serious technical flaws like leaning in or rotating. Sure, it happens at these races but it all comes from the head. Your body knows what to do, its your head that makes the mistake. I got back coming out of a flush today, almost missed a few gates. That came from me worrying that I would miss those gates so I wasn’t attacking like I should have been, which led to me being tentative, which led to me sitting on my heels.
The secret to winning comes from the belief that you will triumph. The belief that you are the champion that you know you are, even if you really aren’t. If you think you can succeed then you won’t be afraid. If you are not afraid, you will do everything you need to, to have no regrets. And if you have no regrets then I am pretty sure you have already won.