6 Things You Never Knew About the Competitive World
of Speed Skating and the Olympics
Ever wondered what goes on in the mind of a winter Olympian? What it’s like to live in the Olympic Village? How much training does it require to be an Olympian? Well today your burning questions will be answered—the secrets will be revealed! I had the pleasure of sitting down with winter Olympian Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr., and received a behind-the-scenes look at the life of an Olympic speed skater. Nancy, a member of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics US Speed Skating Team, had an incredible run at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, placing just shy of an Olympic medal in the 3000-meter team pursuit event. Plagued with injuries for the last four years, Nancy came close to qualifying for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Now, she is back at Wheaton College, and willing to share her personal experience on and off the ice.
1. The road to the Olympics is a four-year commitment
Training starts immediately after the Olympics, and for most Olympians they are training for all four years. This means that some athletes end up over-training themselves; not giving their broken and beaten bodies enough rest, or not resting their minds from the daily toll of striving for perfection.
“Through the burning and the hurt, you love it somehow,” says Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr.
For Nancy, changing skates, blades and her technique were a radical part of her training for the Olympics. She even took a trip to Boston to spend a whole week of nothing but resistance stretching!
2. The Olympic Trials mean more to some athletes than the Olympics
According to Nancy, in recent years the Olympic trials have become more important than Olympics itself to some people. “Making the team is the best feeling in the world,” says Nancy. For most Olympians, they feel accomplished and honored to have made the team. Making the team grants you the title of Olympian for the rest of your life, which let’s be honest, is an incredible title.
3. Olympians receive an abundance of Olympic gear
US Olympians receive an exorbitant amount of free gear from the United States Olympic sponsors, Polo Ralph Lauren and Nike. “We got like five suitcases (of Olympic gear),” says Nancy. “You pick what you need for the Opening and Closing Ceremony, and ship everything else back home.”
The Olympians are shuffled through each clothing area, fitted for the correct size, and are given one of each article of clothing. This is called team processing, and “it’s like a shopping spree at a store,” says Nancy laughingly.
In regards to the 2014 US Olympic uniform, Nancy says she’s “just glad to have Vancouver’s Opening Ceremony jacket, that’s for sure.”
4. For speed skaters, the Olympic village is not a time to party
In the world of speed skating there’s definitely more focus on your sport than partying. “The physical requirements of skating well and being the best limits us (skaters) from the craziness,” states Nancy. “I think the craziest thing to happen is just people drinking or getting drunk. I really don’t believe a lot of promiscuous stuff goes on within skating. I never saw it.”
For some sports, including speed skating, the athletes must maintain their conditioning depending on their race schedules, so they have no time or energy to party.
5. Some athletes fund the Olympics through sponsorships and DIY strategies
The United States Olympic committee gives performance-based stipends to its athletes that do well at World Cups. But in the world of speed skating, many athletes seek out their own sponsorships or DIY fundraising.
Sponsorships come in a multitude of different ways. Nancy has been sponsored the past couple years through products, gifts, and even services from physical therapy offices, that in return for free therapy and care, have her poster hanging in their offices and use her name to promote their company.
For their speed skating journey to qualify for Sochi Olympics, Nancy and her brother Jeffrey used an online fundraising site designed specifically for athletes called Rally Me to help gain support and funding. They also developed their own brand, TeamSwider-Peltz, selling shirts and other merchandise.
6. The Media mainly only cover the medal winners
NBC mainly focus their Olympic coverage on gold/silver athletes, or athletes that have a lot of personality. According to Nancy, “If you have the Olympian title, but have not medaled, you really have to work your way up from the bottom to market yourself with small interviews and make a name for yourself.”