Being able to make it to the Olympics and represent your country is one of the highest achievements that an athlete can ever dream of. Going to compete at the Olympics is an experience that only a handful of athletes can live through every four years, and I will share with you what it has been like for me from my first Olympics in Beijing 2008 to my fourth one in Tokyo 2020.
The whole Olympic process starts with qualifying for your country’s Olympic quota spots in the year before the Olympics are to be held. This can be done at the world championships, or at continental games such as the Pan Am Games. If you are not successful in winning your country’s quota spots (that’s right, they aren’t YOUR spots, but places for which your country will most likely have a trials process), then you will have to try to earn spots in one of the final quota tournaments in the summer before the Olympics. Training for these events is definitely pressure filled, but it’s only a taste of what’s to come once you get to the Olympics.
Traveling to the Olympics brings a lot of feelings of joy and honor for your country. You get to wear your Olympic team uniform, and everybody recognizes you as an athlete. You’re no longer traveling as part of just the archery team, but you are now part of your entire country’s team. Some countries will charter an entire airplane for their athletes and bring them over with special pomp and circumstance, while other countries book their athletes on regular flights, sometimes with upgraded seats to business class. It all depends on the budget that your national Olympic committee is willing to spend. You will also receive your Olympic clothing and gear kit, which includes all the clothing your committee requires you to wear and use during the Olympic Games. They also lay out the stipulations of what to wear and when (such as what to wear to the opening ceremony, on the podium, around the athletes village, etc.). From now on, wearing shirts from personal sponsors is strictly forbidden; the number and size of brand logos on your clothing must follow the International Olympic Committee guidelines.
Once you arrive in the Olympic Village, your accreditation is finalized, and you are now officially an accredited athlete. This means that you can go to your venue using either internal or public transit, you can use the dining hall in the village, and you can also go to the international zone where you can buy official Olympic souvenirs, send mail, get a haircut and learn more about the culture of the host country. You’ll also be shown to your residence, which will be in a building designated to your country. Each residence is an apartment-style dwelling that you share with several other athletes. Most commonly you might be sharing with another athlete from a different sport; in Beijing 2008 I shared a room with a taekwondo athlete.
In the days ahead, you’ll be acclimatizing to life in the village (getting to know the locations of the dining hall and laundry services is pretty important) and getting used to the archery field as well. Not only do you get to practice on the field that will be used at the ranking round, but you will also get a session or two in the “stadium” where the matches will be held. This gives you a chance to get a feel for the stadium and learn what, if any, sight adjustments need to be made to your sight as compared with the ranking round field.
Of course, now you’ll be seeing all the archers you’ve shot with for the past few years and seeing some others for the first time. The Olympics brings out the best in all of them, and there’s a sort of camaraderie that exists in the 64 men and 64 women who make it to the Olympics. This can make you feel a little calmer with the whole experience since competing with these archers is something you’ve done before.
The opening ceremony is one of the biggest events you’ll get to experience at the Olympics. Unfortunately, it’s a lot of “hurry up and wait” for the athletes before they get to march in with their country, and after the athlete parade, you’re back to the waiting part. Seeing and feeling the energy of the crowd and athletes when your country’s name is announced will energize anyone. The feeling of national pride hits you at this moment, and you realize that this is one of the reasons you’ve dedicated yourself to your sport; only an Olympic medal can beat this feeling.
Regardless of your experience or your result, representing your country at the Olympics is a huge honor that you should not take lightly. During the Games, all eyes are on you — everything you do, say, and post on social media; your actions can influence a lot more people than you can imagine, and this can also sway people’s opinions of you and your country as well. Being an Olympian is like being an athletic ambassador for your country.
Opposite to what I mentioned earlier about the camaraderie between athletes, the pressures felt at the Olympics can also be far greater than what you’ve experienced before at world cups or world championships. The level of competition seems to have been bumped up a notch, and suddenly everyone has brought their A-game. At this point, you must rely on your training and execute what you have practiced day in and day out for the last few years.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the Games, and why not — it’s the Olympics! However, when it comes time for competition, it’s the same bow and arrows in your hand, the same distance and the same target that you have shot at a million times before. Although the moment may be special, it requires your utmost attention to make the shot that got you to the Olympics in the first place.