I am, by no means, an athlete—but when the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics came around, I distinctly recall my childhood bedroom transforming into an ice rink and myself proudly winning the gold for being the best darn ice dancer in the entire … well, my room.
Like many kids, my Olympic dreams would fade once the games ended. But there are some for whom the dream of chasing a gold medal never ends. Some of them even work hard enough to become Olympians.
I recently spoke with two such athletes—24-Year-Old Devin Logan and 26-Year-Old Jessie Diggins—who have worked their way to representing Team USA at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. In addition to Team USA, both skiers will be representing Ice Breakers and Team Unicorn at the games, a group of American athletes united with the goal of letting the self-confidence they’ve built their whole lives lead them to victory.
As you’d expect, their journeys leading to PyeongChang have been pretty amazing—but you might be surprised by just how “unexciting” it can be when they’re not hitting the slopes.
Like many of us, Logan watched the games on TV as a child and dreamed of being there one day. Her dream came true at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, which marked her first appearance at the games.
“It was just so cool to walk in the opening ceremony in Sochi,” the New York native said. “You walk through the doors with all of Team USA and you just get goosebumps. The stadium is crowded, lights going off and flashing, it’s just an unreal moment.”
Logan, who took home the 2014 silver medal in slopestyle skiing, said she had to pinch herself during the opening ceremony because the moment was so surreal.
“I walked in with my teammate, Brita Sigourney, on my shoulders and we were just like, ‘Is this really happening?’ You just say that over and over,” Logan said. “Representing your country, with everyone seeing you on TV, waving the stars and stripes and wearing the red, white and blue, is crazy. I’m so thrilled to be able to experience that again.”
But as incredible as it all sounds, competing at the Winter Olympics is not all excitement and fun. In fact, when the athletes aren’t training or actively participating in their events, it’s actually more uneventful than you might imagine—but there’s a very good reason for that.
Diggins, a cross-country skier who also has an impressive stack of victories to her name—including silver and bronze medals at the 2017 World Championship—said athletes in her event can be a little “boring” because they race the first day, the last day and a lot of days in between.
“You can’t be running around expending a lot of energy because you have to be saving it for your races, so I think people would be surprised to know that most of the time we’re playing cards in our apartment and watching videos, trying to chill and de-stress—not expend so much energy until after our races,” Diggins said.
Other athletes agree with that take, including retired Team USA swimmer Jason Lezak, who competed at the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London.
“There’s little cliques and things like that, but it’s all positive and we’re all supporting each other having fun. There’s a lot of downtime [for] playing games and cards or whatever,” the four-time gold medalist said in a 2016 interview with Insider.
That downtime, whether it is resting in their dorm, playing games or just trying to relax, is highly important when it comes to how well an athlete will perform in the games.
“When we socialize, we would normally do so before 9 p.m. so that we can get to bed and make sure we are fully recovered,” former Australian Olympic swimmer Melanie Wright wrote at News.com.au. “There were times when I didn’t even take my dog for a walk in case it affected my performance in the next training session.”
Forcing themselves to chill out at a time when their lifelong dreams are coming true can’t be easy, but the dedication seems to be worth it if an athlete is happy with their performance once the games are over.
“Standing together and being proud of who you are at the end of the day, I think, is key,” Logan said. “It’s about being you and being happy with what you have. You’ve got to own it sometimes.”
NBC’s coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics kicked off this week. The opening ceremony will air tonight. For a full schedule of when you can catch Logan and Diggins on the slopes, check the network’s Olympics programming slate online.