University students and alumni who competed in the Olympic Games through the years have advice for future Olympians, withmost centering around making the most of the Olympic experience without getting distracted.
“From one athlete to another: You've done all of the work, you've done all the training and you've done everything you could to prepare you for this moment—now just let it all hang out,” American rower Tom Welsh ’99 said.
Fellow American rower Kevin Cotter ’96 said that Olympians should know that the Olympic Games are not the peak of their career.
“There is more to do. More to leave on this planet. Do something bigger and better AFTER the Olympics… it is possible. For me that ended up being music… but for others they will need to find what that is,” he said.
Cotter added that the Olympians should never get a tattoo with the Olympic rings, because "it is too cheesy," and that it was important to peak on the right day, because “it is a long Olympics week, as crazy as that sounds.”
Only drinking bottled water and not experimenting with eating until they are done competing were additional things that Cotter said the Olympians should look into.
“Rio should be easy because there is minimal time change to adjust your sleep— use that to your advantage over athletes traveling from 5+ hours away,” Cotter added.
Cotter also said that humility is important for Olympians.
“Never tell anyone that you were on the Olympic team or won medals blah blah blah… it is not Princeton-like. Be humble— don’t bring it up,” Cotter added.
American rower Peter Raymond ’68 said that it was important to have half-hour talks, minimally, with as many people from as many countries as possible, even if there is no shared language.
“On a bus in Mexico, a Russian and I discovered we were 'enemies,' both stroke of the straight four. We talked trash at each other the whole way, he without a word of English and I without Russian, and the KGB [the Committee for State Security of the Soviet Union] listening to everything,” Raymond said of a particularly memorable experience at the 1968 Games.
American rower Douglas Foy ’69 advised taking advantage of the experience by witnessing other sporting events at the Games.
“It really is an extraordinary experience. It’s a chance of a lifetime. You may not come back, or you may, but it’s unlikely. So make the most of that experience,” Foy said.
American fencer Lee Shelley ’78 added that the Olympians should try to see other events in person, meet and get to know athletes in different sports and from different countries as well as enjoy some of the local culture while maintaining their training and competitive schedule.
“I’d like to congratulate each of you for the tremendous accomplishment of making the Olympic Team. You are now, and always will be, an Olympian… good luck!” Shelley added.
American table tennis player Erica Wu ’18 said that Olympians should make an effort to talk to other athletes at the Olympic Village —“What’s your sport?” functions as a good ice breaker. Wu added that the Olympians should capture as much of the experience as possible.
“Take pictures. Take videos. Don’t be afraid of looking touristy, because everyone there is going to be looking touristy,” Wu said.
Wu added that the Olympians should remember to bring cell phone, laptop and camera chargers to the Games —she lost out on capturing “two days worth of materials” because she did not have her chargers at hand.
Haitian shot putter Deborah Saint-Phard ’87 said that it is a good idea to bring extra things to trade with people from other countries, because Olympians can "get a ton of other stuff from other people."
“So bring stuff to trade, enjoy it, sleep, eat, takes tons of pictures. You’ll remember it forever,” Saint-Phard said.
American ice hockey player Andrea Kilbourne-Hill ’02 added that the Olympians should back up their pictures as soon as they return, and that they should keep a journal while at the Games.
American swimmer Ross Wales ’69 said that the Olympians should enjoy the experience, without losing focus on your competition.
“Do the best you can. Let what you do give you some satisfaction. Enjoy it,” Icelandic runner Thorsteinn ThorsteinssonGislason ’69 added.
American rower Carol Brown ’75 said that being at the Olympics is a special opportunity that is increasingly appreciated as time goes by.
“Focus on the athletic opportunity. There are so many distractions. But be sure to take in the Olympic experience, especially the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. It truly is a global gathering that transcends everything else that is going on in the world,” she added.
American cyclist Derek Bouchard-Hall ’92 said that the Olympians should not let the stress of the event stop them from soaking it all in.
“You are at the Olympics —love every minute of it,” he said.
American shot putter August Wolf ’83 said that the Olympians should take comfort in all the training that they’ve done, relax and then win.
Australian rower Sam Loch ’06 said that it is important for Olympians to have faith in their teammates and coaches.
“They've taken you this far and your best bet is complete trust. Also, have fun. Enjoy the competition.That's the point after all,” Loch added.
Canadian rower Tom Herschmiller ’01 added that the Olympians should just trust their preparation, and that they’ve already done the work to determine whether they can medal.
“Focus your efforts and your energies on the things you can control. In a venue like the Olympics, there is much that will be out of your control. Don’t waste time on those things. Remain completely layered in on doing every single thing you can do to maximize your success on the largest sporting stage there is,” American runner Lynn Jennings ’83 said.
American rower Chris Ahrens ’98 added that Olympians should be selfish during the Games.
“Don’t be distracted by your friends and family, the Olympics hoopla or the media… before you know it, the racing is over and the results are forever,” he explained.
American fencer Maya Lawrence ’02 said that if the Olympians plan to cut communication to focus better, they should explain their decision to their friends and family beforehand.
“But don't feel bad about doing it.Remember why you're there,” Lawrence added.
American high jumper Tora Harris ’02 said that if the Olympians have qualified for the American track and field team, then they need only worry about the event’s distractions, since they have already passed one of the biggest hurdles and are in a contingent of their own.
“Everybody wants to talk to you and give an interview and all that. But that stuff will wear you down if you’re not careful. Certainly, the parents need to do that and stop calling you and stuff,” Harris said.
Harris added that it is important to have fun, continue to “do what you did before” while keeping in mind everything learned during the United States teams’ onboarding process with regards to limiting sponsor events, talking to the media and avoiding questions about things like politics.
“Find a way and execute. Excuses and distractions are easy to come by,” Canadian rower AndréanneMorin ’04 said.
Swiss swimmer Nathalie Kirkwood ’93 said that it is important to focus on the competition and the Olympic experience at different times during the course of the Games.
“If you’re a U.S. Olympian, then you’re already expected to be a medalist and to be on the top. So you can’t really enjoy everything around you because you’re so focused on the race. But when it’s over, really do explore all your surroundings and people from different countries and Village and the city itself, because there’s so much to enjoy,” she said.
Canadian rower Morgan Crooks ’98 said that rowers in particular can use the second week of the Games to take advantage of the Olympic experience, since their races are all during the first week of the Games.
“My boat in 2000 was very young and inexperienced, and we definitely lost our focus,” he said.
American rower Lia Pernell ’03 said that the rowers "have it covered," and that they should enjoy their races while knowing that they have worked incredibly hard.
“I guess I wish that I had treated the race more like any other race. That I’d been more confident in our preparation; that I’d just been ready to enjoy it and enjoy the racing a little more,” she noted.
Pernell added that the Kate Bertko ’06 and Gevvie Stone ’07, who will be competing at the Games this year, are really tough athletes.
“I’m excited to see what they’re going to do. And I wish them all the best,” she said.
American rower Steve Coppola ’06 said that the U.S. men’s eight, of which Glenn Ochal ’08 is a member, istraining hard.
“It would be really nice if the eights came back with some hardware… They’ve got a good shot at a medal. That’d be awesome to get the eights back on the podium,” he said.
Coppola added that it is important to embrace each moment at the Games.
“Don’t get caught up in the big picture. Just have eyes straight in front of you and the big rosy picture is for after racing is done,” he said.
American fencer Soren Thompson ’05 said that the athletes should not be afraid to be creative and engage in self-reflection while internalizing information from friends and family.
“Use all information, be open to learn from everybody; but to definitely be creative to use information to forage your own way and compete in a way that’s good for you,” Thompson said.
Puerto Rican swimmer Douglas Lennox ’09 said that the Olympians should look back and reflect on their Olympic journeys with all their ups and downs.
“Thank the people who helped you get there. Close the circle with people who inspired you, gave you tough love and supported you during your weakest moments, and even let the doubters know in a friendly and respectful way that they helped drive you to be your best,” Lennox said.
Cotter added that the Olympians should make the University and their countries proud.
“When you are sitting on the line about to start your race— know that you have 77,000 Tigers who want you to win gold,” Cotter said.