Olympic Gold Isn’t For Everyone – But Excellence Is
In 1976, Kathy Kreiner stood on the Olympic podium listening to Canada’s national anthem being played in her honour. The gold medal had just been placed around her neck, and as the Canadian flag rose against the backdrop of the mountains near Innsbruck, Austria, a swell of emotion and pride passed through the hearts of Canadians everywhere.
Kathy had just skied the race of her life to snatch the victory in the Giant Slalom away from the highly-favoured German skier, Rosi Mittermaier. The teenager from Timmins, Ontario was declared the new Olympic Champion and Canadians immediately adopted her as their sweetheart and national hero. Kathy’s heart was filled with elation, but it was only as the days passed that the significance of her victory finally began to sink in — her childhood dream had come true.
Two decades later, Kathy Kreiner-Phillips is a practicing sport psychologist who acts as a mental trainer to world-class athletes and uses her unique story to remind men and women from all walks of life that dreams really do come true. She motivates people to strive for excellence in all areas of life because “Olympic gold may not be for everyone — but excellence is.”
Personal excellence takes a dream, hard work and determination, as well as the support and encouragement of others. It can only be achieved by developing an individual game plan that you are committed to and by adopting a winning attitude that will carry you through to the finish. Kathy’s story illustrates four key points that can help you make your dream come true — whatever that dream may be.
1. Dream big — excellence always begins with a vision.
Kathy’s first glimpse of Olympic Gold came while watching home movies of the 1968 Olympic Games in Grenoble, France where Canadian skier Nancy Greene captured the world’s attention by winning a gold medal. Kathy’s father, a physician, had traveled to Grenoble to serve as the team doctor for the Canadian ski team and he returned home with films and personal stories of the Olympic games and Nancy’s victory. Kathy was fascinated by Nancy’s win, and as she watched the scratchy film footage, the seeds of a dream to one day stand on a platform with an Olympic gold medal around her neck began to grow in Kathy’s heart.
2. Set shorter, achievable goals along the way.
That dream may have seemed impossible to many, but not to a spunky, 10-year-old girl. She set her sights high and used short-term goals and accomplishments as a measure of progress. Kathy began traveling with the Canadian ski team when she was 11 years-old and went to the Pan Am games when she was only 13. The trips were tiring and Kathy was away from home for long periods of time, but she knew that she was steadily working toward her goal of Olympic gold. While other 14-year-olds were chasing boys and hanging out at the mall, Kathy came one step closer to achieving her dream by becoming the youngest competitor at the Olympic Games in Sapporo, Japan. At the age of 16, she had her first World Cup victory.
Each of these events was a stepping stone which indicated progress towards achieving her ultimate goal. Kathy is convinced that setting short-term goals and reviewing accomplishments is necessary to keep our efforts directed and focused. Without this strategy, we tend to become so focused on the dream that we lose sight of what we have to do each day to achieve it. Another key to success is to not be afraid to revise short-term goals along the way. Even though they may appear to be a step off the original path, revised goals can revitalize a tired game plan.
A defining moment in Kathy’s career came as the 1976 Olympic Games were approaching. The morale on the Canadian women’s ski team was at an all-time low, so Kathy decided to spend some time training on her own. Just two weeks before the Olympics, Kathy went to visit a Canadian friend in Germany, Thomas Vukovich. To her surprise, he was instrumental in helping her regain her winning attitude. “He built up my confidence and mental focus by asking me key questions such as, ‘Do you want to win? What will you be thinking about as you stand in the starting gate? What will you think about as you head down the hill?’”
While thinking about those questions, Kathy decided that she “kinda liked the idea of winning” and the two of them immediately put together a mental strategy to win the race at the Olympics. Until then, Kathy hadn’t spent much time working on the mental aspects of winning a race, but says that “developing a new mental strategy was critical in enabling me to get refocused, renewed and re-energized.” By the time Kathy joined her team at the Olympics, she felt as though she was a new woman who not only had a dream, but also a very specific plan to carry out that dream.
3. Don’t lose sight of the dream.
The difficult year on the World Cup circuit in 1975/76 led some of Kathy’s closest friends on the team, including her sister Laurie, to make the decision to retire as soon as the season was finished. Discouragement soon began to take its toll on Kathy as well. “I was just about to enter the opportunity to have my dream fulfilled,” Kathy says, “yet, for awhile, it was like I had forgotten what my dream was. I was almost ready to quit at that point.”
There are always barriers to face as you pursue a dream. The dream itself may provide sufficient motivation for most days, but when times get tough you need the encouragement and support of other people. Kathy is quick to credit the support of others, especially her older sister Laurie, who was also a national ski team member for many years. “Laurie was always there to push me, to encourage me, to train with me. My dad provided the opportunity for me to pursue my dream, and my coaches nurtured my dream and helped me to believe in myself. My mom was the unsung hero — she was always there for me when I came home.”
Kathy’s training, her short-term goals, her perseverance and determination, and her willingness to change her game plan all worked to give her the skills and the confidence that she needed to achieve her dream. When the day arrived for her to face her Olympic challenge in Innsbruck, she was ready. “I felt like I was playing a part in a movie. I had rehearsed it over and over and was ready to ski the race that would win. As I stood in the starting blocks looking down at the crowds, I remember thinking, “They don’t know it, but I am going to win today.”
4. Give your dreams to God.
Kathy was too busy skiing to spend much time thinking about God. But she often felt something drawing her toward God and spiritual things. The night before her Olympic race, Kathy watched a movie that disturbed her and left her in tears — and wondering if there was a God. On the chairlift ride to the top of the mountain the next day, she recalls saying this small prayer, “God if you really are there — you do what you want with me today and I will be happy with that.”
She now says, “As I look back on my life, I believe that God honored that prayer. I believe that God gave me my dream and drew me to Himself as I accomplished my dream.” Although Kathy didn’t become a Christian until several years later, she now says that “performance, losses, victories, goals and dreams are all viewed from a very different perspective when they are first and foremost offered to God.” As a result, Kathy believes that the success of any performance will be enhanced if we first say to God — “I will do my best. You do what I cannot do.”
No matter what happens in your life, can you still radiate joy? How do you understand success and excellence?
God wants to be our leverage in living, empowering us to feel better about ourselves, more excited about our future, more grateful for those we love and more enthusiastic about our faith.
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, God has given you His Holy Spirit to help you live life according to His perfect plan. Why not pray this simple prayer and by faith invite Him to fill you with His Spirit:
“Dear Father, I need you. I acknowledge that I have sinned against you by directing my own life. I thank you that You have forgiven my sins through Christ’s death on the cross for me. I now invite Christ to again take His place on the throne of my life. Fill me with the Holy Spirit as You commanded me to be filled, and as You promised in Your Word that You would do if I asked in faith. I pray this in the name of Jesus. As an expression of my faith, I thank You for directing my life and for filling me with the Holy Spirit. Amen.”