The Summer Olympic Games are one of the biggest spectacles in the world. And, for many of the athletes involved, it represents a dream fulfilled -- and also a dream in-progress.
Because while making the Olympic roster for your country is a great accomplishment on its own, there's a reason everyone gathers to take on all comers from around the world. The chance to win an Olympic medal, and to write your name in the history books, comes around but once every four years.
So while Olympic dreams are achieved just by landing on the ground in Rio, Brazil, the task of competing looms ahead. That's not as simple a dynamic as it may seem. For athletes dropped onto the sporting world's biggest stage, the bright lights can be overwhelming, and the temptation to enjoy the ride can overtake the diligence and focus that got them there.
Olympic skiing gold medalist Lindsey Vonn has some advice: Until you're done competing, don't have any fun.
"I know it's an amazing experience to walk out and go to opening ceremonies, but it's also a great way to feel the weight of the world on your shoulders," Vonn says. "Always try to keep everything low-key as much as possible. Do your event, and then enjoy the Olympic experience."
Having competed in a few Winter Olympic Games herself, Vonn has had very different experiences over the course of her career. At her first Games, in 2002, she was a relative unknown as a 17-year-old.
"No one expected me to do anything," Vonn says, "and it was such a fun Olympics."
Flash forward to four years later, when Vonn was regarded as one of the world's best, and carried the expectations of a multiple-medal haul. Even before an injury derailed her 2006 Olympic Games performance, Vonn says the pressure was palpable.
"[In 2006 and 2010] I had all the pressure in the world on me, and it became a different experience altogether," Vonn says.
Most Olympians will arrive at the summer Games without such a target on their back. But all of them will be tempted by the trappings of the Olympic spectacle: The exotic location, the social opportunities, the chance to kick back, enjoy the show and rest on your laurels.
Vonn says the experience can quickly become disorienting. And social media doesn't help, either -- it only creates another outlet for distraction, at a time when athletes should be more focused than ever before.
So what's an athlete to do? Vonn has some advice. First, enjoy the opening ceremony: One night before the official start of competition where every athlete makes an appearance and soaks in the experience. Many athletes will say their greatest memory is the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games they competed in, and eschewing that one-time event won't earn an athlete any competitive advantage.
But when that ceremony is over, it's back to work. Vonn encourages athletes to get back into their normal routine as much as possible. Avoid the distractions taking place all around you. As best as you can, try to forget there's even an Olympic Games going on.
After all the hard work involved in reaching the Olympic stage, the pain of self-sabotaging at the finish line could be crushing. So keep your eyes on the prize, they say.
Until you're done competing, anyway. Once you're off the hook, live it up -- soak in every Olympic moment you can lasso. After four years of grinding away, you've earned a few days of carefree fun.
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