Rio swimming sensation Penny Oleksiak is driven by the doubters. She was one of them, after all

Penny Oleksiak lives her life in colour. Her Instagram feed is a scrolling palette of personal, professional and promotional updates that, if you flick fast enough, becomes almost a pastel kaleidoscope. Amid this blur, black and white can actually stand out. A post from June 22 stands out from the rest — for this reason and others. At the risk of burning all of our hyphens too soon, it could be described as un-Oleksiak-like. From those soaring, historic highs of the Rio Olympics in 2016 to the hype, the homecoming and the testing low times that followed, Oleksiak has always come across as utterly, genuinely herself on Instagram. As Penny, a 21-year-old living her life. Listen to how those closest to Oleksiak describe her and it all fits: hilarious, humble, self-effacing to the point of goofiness, loyal and loving, dog-obsessed. It’s all there. Raw, open emotion from time to time, too. But the monochrome update last month stood out as another side, one that hasn’t been seen as often.It’s a black-and-white close-up of Oleksiak in pre-race mode, pulling a personalized swim cap down over her ears, to the point that the L and E of her surname seem to be stretching down to the water, eager to get going. The four-word caption reads “count me out again.”It was posted the same night that Oleksiak, who hadn’t stepped onto a major individual podium since Rio de Janeiro, roared back to the surface. Oleksiak won the 100-metre freestyle final at the Canadian Olympic trials in a time of 52.89, her best swim since setting a personal and Olympic mark when claiming gold five years ago. A re-emergence of the ferocious competitor, the racer. Count her out again? Not on that evidence, thanks. The win secured Oleksiak the right to defend her 100 free crown at the delayed Tokyo Games. She’ll also compete in the 200 free and be a key part of Canada’s relay squads. To the casual observers who likely missed her myriad struggles with form, injury, anxiety and plenty more between the great gatherings in Brazil and Japan, Oleksiak’s will be the face and name Canadian eyes will scan for in the early days. Expectations follow and Oleksiak has eloquently insisted she is now in a much better place to carry those than she was for much of the interim. “I struggled with having ‘Olympic champion’ attached to my name. It was almost scary for me to go up and race,” she said earlier this year. “But now it’s more motivating to me. I’m like: ‘Yeah, that is me. I did that. And I’m going to do it again, hopefully.’ ”Yet it bears remembering just how tall a task she faces in Tokyo. In this most psychologically sapping of sports, returning from a teenage breakout to do it all again is an ask that has proved beyond many. The pool is truly one of the Olympics’ most unrelentingly cruel theatres. For some, the aging process seems accelerated under water and physiological advantages they had as teens have dissolved in the intervening years as a new wave powers through.You can track the wake. While Oleksiak was busy setting a Canadian record and hauling in four medals in Rio, the same pool was a torture chamber for Missy Franklin. The American had claimed five golds in 2012 as a 17-year-old but found even getting to a final was beyond her now. In London, as Franklin reigned supreme, it was home favourite Rebecca Adlington, a double gold medallist as a teen four years earlier in Beijing, who couldn’t match those highs. Some teen champions don’t even make it back to another Games. Ryan Cochrane was widely credited with saving Canadian swimming when he ended a medal drought with bronze as a teenager in Beijing. Four years later, he went one better with silver in London. In Rio he captained the swim team that Oleksiak helped carry to a record six medals. He has seen all sides. “It helps that you go from being a naive teenager to a much more seasoned athlete four years later, in this case five,” Cochrane told the Star. “In your first Games, you don’t have to hear about expectations. You go and do the work, without having that conversation 15 times a day. But when you go into a second Games …“Some people strive by talking about that expectation, having the weight on their shoulders. I enjoyed it. But it can’t just be the expectations that drive you. You still have to find the enjoyment in why you’re doing it. It’s a visceral, emotional response, wanting to represent the country. I hope that she feels that behind her.”Enjoyment was one of the primary issues for Oleksiak in the months and years after Rio. The rush of fame, and with it pressure, is a hell of a thing for anyone to handle. Try doing so at 16 and 17 without missing a beat.“It felt like people were always watching me and I always had to be the best,” she told CBC’s The National last month. “No matter what I did, it wasn’t good enough for myself and I thought it wasn’t good enough for other people.”Markus Rogan was a backstroke phenom in the early 2000s and won double silver in Athens in 2004. The Austria

Rio swimming sensation Penny Oleksiak is driven by the doubters. She was one of them, after all

Penny Oleksiak lives her life in colour. Her Instagram feed is a scrolling palette of personal, professional and promotional updates that, if you flick fast enough, becomes almost a pastel kaleidoscope.

Amid this blur, black and white can actually stand out. A post from June 22 stands out from the rest — for this reason and others. At the risk of burning all of our hyphens too soon, it could be described as un-Oleksiak-like.

From those soaring, historic highs of the Rio Olympics in 2016 to the hype, the homecoming and the testing low times that followed, Oleksiak has always come across as utterly, genuinely herself on Instagram. As Penny, a 21-year-old living her life. Listen to how those closest to Oleksiak describe her and it all fits: hilarious, humble, self-effacing to the point of goofiness, loyal and loving, dog-obsessed. It’s all there. Raw, open emotion from time to time, too. But the monochrome update last month stood out as another side, one that hasn’t been seen as often.

It’s a black-and-white close-up of Oleksiak in pre-race mode, pulling a personalized swim cap down over her ears, to the point that the L and E of her surname seem to be stretching down to the water, eager to get going. The four-word caption reads “count me out again.”

It was posted the same night that Oleksiak, who hadn’t stepped onto a major individual podium since Rio de Janeiro, roared back to the surface. Oleksiak won the 100-metre freestyle final at the Canadian Olympic trials in a time of 52.89, her best swim since setting a personal and Olympic mark when claiming gold five years ago. A re-emergence of the ferocious competitor, the racer. Count her out again? Not on that evidence, thanks.

The win secured Oleksiak the right to defend her 100 free crown at the delayed Tokyo Games. She’ll also compete in the 200 free and be a key part of Canada’s relay squads. To the casual observers who likely missed her myriad struggles with form, injury, anxiety and plenty more between the great gatherings in Brazil and Japan, Oleksiak’s will be the face and name Canadian eyes will scan for in the early days. Expectations follow and Oleksiak has eloquently insisted she is now in a much better place to carry those than she was for much of the interim.

“I struggled with having ‘Olympic champion’ attached to my name. It was almost scary for me to go up and race,” she said earlier this year. “But now it’s more motivating to me. I’m like: ‘Yeah, that is me. I did that. And I’m going to do it again, hopefully.’ ”

Yet it bears remembering just how tall a task she faces in Tokyo. In this most psychologically sapping of sports, returning from a teenage breakout to do it all again is an ask that has proved beyond many. The pool is truly one of the Olympics’ most unrelentingly cruel theatres. For some, the aging process seems accelerated under water and physiological advantages they had as teens have dissolved in the intervening years as a new wave powers through.

You can track the wake. While Oleksiak was busy setting a Canadian record and hauling in four medals in Rio, the same pool was a torture chamber for Missy Franklin. The American had claimed five golds in 2012 as a 17-year-old but found even getting to a final was beyond her now. In London, as Franklin reigned supreme, it was home favourite Rebecca Adlington, a double gold medallist as a teen four years earlier in Beijing, who couldn’t match those highs. Some teen champions don’t even make it back to another Games.

Ryan Cochrane was widely credited with saving Canadian swimming when he ended a medal drought with bronze as a teenager in Beijing. Four years later, he went one better with silver in London. In Rio he captained the swim team that Oleksiak helped carry to a record six medals. He has seen all sides.

“It helps that you go from being a naive teenager to a much more seasoned athlete four years later, in this case five,” Cochrane told the Star. “In your first Games, you don’t have to hear about expectations. You go and do the work, without having that conversation 15 times a day. But when you go into a second Games …

“Some people strive by talking about that expectation, having the weight on their shoulders. I enjoyed it. But it can’t just be the expectations that drive you. You still have to find the enjoyment in why you’re doing it. It’s a visceral, emotional response, wanting to represent the country. I hope that she feels that behind her.”

Enjoyment was one of the primary issues for Oleksiak in the months and years after Rio. The rush of fame, and with it pressure, is a hell of a thing for anyone to handle. Try doing so at 16 and 17 without missing a beat.

“It felt like people were always watching me and I always had to be the best,” she told CBC’s The National last month. “No matter what I did, it wasn’t good enough for myself and I thought it wasn’t good enough for other people.”

Markus Rogan was a backstroke phenom in the early 2000s and won double silver in Athens in 2004. The Austrian became a sports psychologist after retiring from the sport and, as director of performance psychology for the host nation, was poolside in Rio to watch Oleksiak’s heroics. He remembers having moments of concern even then as the enormity of it all was clear.

“If you think about the life of a teenager, what most teens are supposed to do is figure out who are they,” he said from his practice in California. “Most look outside themselves — on social media, to a friend group, to teachers, for some form of external validation. In Penny’s case, she received the ultimate external validation. A certificate that you are amazing in the form of multiple Olympic medals. She received the whole country’s adoration.

“So whenever she looked outside of herself, everything was perfect. That, for a teenager, can be extremely heavy. It’s enormous pressure. ‘Oh, my God, I have to be perfect in every way.’ I cannot tell you how hard it is. By the time you’re 16, you’ve achieved something that will be said about you at your funeral. No matter what she does for the rest of your life … she’s already done it.”

Rogan compared Canada to Austria and spoke of the pressure being more intense in a less prolific Olympic nation than say the U.S. He has worked with breakout athletes who struggle to adapt. Psychosomatic disorders as a result of overtraining are a risk. Simone Manuel, who Oleksiak shared her 100 free gold with in a pulsating dead heat in Rio, was diagnosed with that earlier this year and for a time looked unlikely to make it to Tokyo (the American will compete in the 50 free).

Rogan was enthused by Oleksiak’s performance as Tokyo approached. And by that post, too. “(Other people’s) doubt is a fantastic motivator,” he said. “I encourage everyone to doubt. If everyone doubts her, she can only win.”

Cochrane retired in 2016. He did so to the sound of tributes from among others Oleksiak, who described him as an inspiration and thanked him for his advice. These days she gets counsel from the greatest to ever do it, having joined Michael Phelps’ brand late last year. She has spoken of texting the most decorated Olympian when she wants to know “what would Michael do?”

That support structure gives Cochrane, now a successful real estate agent in Victoria, supreme confidence in Oleksiak’s ability to thrive again in Tokyo — on her own terms.

“It’s not a redemption,” Cochrane said. “That is such an incorrect word to use. Penny doesn’t need to redeem anything. She’s already got it, already proven herself to be the best. This is just adding to the haul and seeing how far she can take it. That’s the exciting part.”

And his thoughts on the Instagram post?

“Penny’s pretty quiet,” he smiled. “Even in 2016 there was a strength with that — it’s not about being the loudest person in the room. But when it’s time, when she needed to, she can turn it on. This is the time.”

Joe Callaghan is a Toronto-based sports and feature writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach him via email: joecallaghan84@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @JoeCallaghan84

Source : Toronto Star More   

What's Your Reaction?

like
0
dislike
0
love
0
funny
0
angry
0
sad
0
wow
0

Next Article

New York Weather: CBS2’s 7/22 Thursday Morning Forecast

CBS2's Lonnie Quinn has your weather forecast for July 22.

New York Weather: CBS2’s 7/22 Thursday Morning Forecast

CBS2’s Lonnie Quinn has your weather forecast for July 22.

Source : CBS News York More   

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.