On Wednesday April 4, a crowd ranging from weekend warriors to Olympic hopefuls gathered at the Isabel Bader Theatre to hear a discussion on what it takes to be an Olympian. Georgevski was joined by high performance athletics correspondent Greg Wells, U of T Kinesiology & Physical Education Professor Gretchen Kerr, and Canadian rhythmic gymnastics Olympian Alexandra Orlando.
Wells, a PhD in physiology himself, spoke of the benefits of relaxation and the hindrances of stress on athletic performance. “Take three deep breaths,” he explained. “Calm yourself down, and regain control.” Joannie Rochette, who figure skated at Vancouver in 2010 even though her mother had recently passed away, did this in the 60 seconds before her routine. She won Olympic bronze.
Kerr, meanwhile, had much to say on the on the psychological aspect of high performance competition. After momentarily lamenting the “artificial separation of mind and body” - the compartmentalization of physiology from psychology despite their fundamental connections - she explained the critical importance of emotional well being for successful athletes. She said that the performance levels of Olympians are so uniform that oftentimes “it is the psychological state that determines the minute differences [of performance].”
Orlando, world record holder and five-time national rhythmic gymnastics champion, served as keynote speaker for the event. She recounted both the failure of being one-tenth of a point short of qualifying for Athens in 2004 and the pride of representing Canada at Beijing four years later. “For every athlete that makes it to the Olympics, there are hundreds and hundreds of people behind them,” she explained. At Beijing, she placed 18th in her event after competing at “60-70 per cent” ability with ruined ankles and ligaments. “You can’t doubt your ability and your strength – not only when you’re at the top, but also when you’re at the bottom.”
The symposium ended with CBC national news and sports issues reporter Teddy Katz mediating a brief Q&A session. When asked whether or not the creation of Olympians and the Olympic Games themselves are ultimately worth all of the blood, sweat, and tears, each speaker agreed that it was. “[The Olympic Games are] where 200 plus countries will come together under the same set of rules to compete peacefully,” Wells affirmed. “The positives, overall, far outweigh the negatives.”