The Olympic Experience: how fitness played a role in Vancouver.

The Vancouver Olympics was, of course, one of the very best experiences of my life. In this month’s blog entry, I’m going to share with you some of the fitness- related things that my team and I did throughout the month we spent in Vancouver.

John Morris at the 2008 Canada Cup (Photo: CCA/Michael Burns Photography)

During our first week at the Games, we stayed in the Olympic Village.  Although we had a lot of on-ice training and many Olympic events that kept us extremely busy, we would usually be able to squeeze in an hour or so each day for a workout at the Village.  VANOC did a great job at putting together a fully functional workout area in the middle of the Olympic Village – all the athletes had access to it.  With so many competitors from all kinds of different sports, it was exciting to see what the other Olympians did in the gym. I’m always interested in learning about new ways to train and this was a terrific opportunity for that. It was also really cool to be working out in the Village gym next to some premier international athletes on one day and then, on the next day, watching them on television as they competed for the podium in their sport. One of the highlights of my time in the Olympic Village was working out with hockey players Dany Heatley and Chris Pronger. It was refreshing to see that even the NHLers weren’t treating this time as an Olympic holiday or a convenient break from their grueling NHL schedule. Here were my fellow Canadian teammates, determined to train hard and perform for the Maple Leaf just like the rest of us, fully focused on how to “git ‘er done.” Once the curling competition began, we moved into the Vancouver residence that our team would call home for two weeks.  During this time, we would still head to the Village every couple of days to work out, doing mostly light cardio sessions of about 30 minutes and body-weight strength exercises like push ups, sit ups, and chin ups.We had trained heavily in the months prior to the Games and our fitness training goal once we arrived at the Olys was simply to maintain our current levels, stay strong, and keep our mental edge. As a change of pace from the gym at the Village, some of us started going to a local yoga studio.  To be quite honest, I was around my team and our coaching staff almost every day I was in Vancouver – nine guys all in the same house, an entourage by curling standards –  so it was nice to find an excuse for a change of scenery. And the Hot Yoga studio definitely provided that. By our third or fourth class, some of the members of the studio had gotten wind that we were Canada’s Curling Team (maybe it was all the Olympic attire we were sporting or the security guard who followed us everywhere, aka CCA coach Paul Webster) and were overwhelmingly supportive whenever we came in after that. It was easy to get caught up in all the hype and energy of the Olympics.  I think that acknowledging the pressure of the Olympics and cheering on our fellow Canadian teammates was an important part of our journey.  I do have to admit, however, that on more than one occasion I felt the pressure of being on Canada’s curling team and thoughts about not letting my country down did creep into my mind.  I’ve played in a lot of big games but before both the semi-final and the final in Vancouver, I woke up and feeling a little more nervous and anxious than usual. At this stage in the event, I believe physical conditioning was as important as ever but not for the usual reasons.  For one thing, the draw times of those final two games were in the afternoon, which meant we had all day to think about them. Instead of killing time before those matchups by channel surfing while lying on the couch or in bed, where I may have let my mind start to get the best of me, I would go for a quick workout at the local community centre gym near our house.  While I don’t think I received physical benefits from those workouts, they were critical for my mental preparation.  Exercise releases chemicals called endorphins in your brain, which is why you tend to feel energized and confident after a good workout.  By exercising during this crucial time in the competition, I was able to work off my nervous energy, head back home for a healthy pre-game meal and then arrive at the venue feeling composed, confident and ready. I can remember stepping on the ice before the two biggest games of my career – the semi-final and the final – and saying to myself, “This is why you compete in sports, to compete at the highest level in the world and to have a chance to excel.” What a thrill!  I don’t think I could have felt any better going into those two games and I think my physical preparation, both during the years prior to the Olympics and throughout the time I spent in Vancouver, played an integral role.