What it's like to be an Olympic athlete

This veteran Olympian has been to three games and carried the flag for Canada. Figure skater Kurt Browning reveals what it's really like to be on Team Canada.

By Jill Buchner

What it's like to be an Olympic athlete
photography courtesy of Keith Beaty/ZUMA Press/Corbis
Kurt Browning is nothing short of hilarious. He starts out our interview doing boudoir poses on the chaise in the press area, then cracks jokes about offering clothing advice to Patrick Chan. The three-time Olympian is a constant comedian.

After years of competing, carrying the flag and even performing at closing ceremonies, he's being sent to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics as an analyst—proof, he tells me, that he's "all grown up."

But the Olympics are no joking matter for Kurt. He knows the pressure of trying to make it to the podium, and he knows that the Games aren't always the special experience they're cracked up to be. He calls them "an emotional obstacle course" in which anxiety can break you. "I had moments where it would just come in waves, like nausea. You're just sitting in your car, reading your book, and all of a sudden, you're car sick,"he says.

Most of us never endure an experience as weighty as competing for one's country. Kurt says the pressure is palpable. "I just couldn't fathom how important that triple axle was going to be. And it was over like that,"he says, snapping his fingers.

"And the trouble is, it isn't just you, it isn't just your family. The whole country is waiting to see if they're going to be heels or if they're going to be heroes with you.”

With so much pressure, all that steam has to be blown off. Kurt recalls a day during the 1992 Olympics when he and Elvis Stojko decided to make a crazy video of themselves running around looking for Eric Lindros. They filmed it like they were hosting a TV show. "We had little stand-up interviews: ‘We're outside the pizza parlour and there's nobody big in there,'"he says, reenacting it while holding a pretend microphone. "So somewhere I've still got a tape of that day at the Olympics, with me and Elvis with bangs and hockey hair.”

If Kurt could pass on one piece of advice to our athletes, it would be to keep those memories close. "I assumed I was going to remember everything—but I don't,"he says.

Oh, and one more piece of advice:  Whatever happens, you'll survive. "Trust me. I was favoured to win two gold medals and lost both of them. And life is still good.”

Learn more about this year's Team Canada
                                               
This story was originally titled "Kurt Browning on What It's Really Like to Be an Olympian" in the February 2014 issue.
           
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