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A bittersweet ending to a fantastic experience

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff March 2, 2010 03:33 PM

Luger Megan Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., has provided insight and commentary in occasional blog posts for Boston.com throughout the Winter Olympics. This is her final installment.

Iím sitting here in LAX on my way to Hawaii (yeah, I know Ö Iím spoiled) trying to process these past two days especially, but really everything that has happened. It all went by way too quickly, but looking back at it Iíve done so much.

At this particular moment I feel as if death is upon me because Iíve only slept about seven hours over the past two nights, but I knew I just had to push through to the end!

So lets start with Saturday Ö I went to the final of the 4-man bobsled race and watched my teammates win gold. It was so absolutely incredible and Iím so happy for those guys! So that night at the USA House in Whistler, the athletes get to present an appreciation award for someone (anyone, but mainly itís given to coaches) to recognize their hard work and sacrifices along with the athletesí.

Hereís the thing, Iíve gone two weeks without getting emotional or crying, and itís been tough because at times everything is very overwhelming! But when you have four big macho bobsled guys (who you know on more than just a professional level) getting choked up and even shedding tears Ö yeah I was trying to compose myself to some degree. But after that final event we all went into Whistler and celebrated but the following day I had plans ...

Before the award presentations I got a phone call and found out that I had won in the athletes lottery for a ticket to the gold medal hockey game! I honestly cannot put enough exclamation points to show you my excitement. I thought that going to the preliminary USA vs. Canada hockey game made my Olympics Ö and now this!

I knew that it was going to be a long day because what this meant was I had to catch the 8 a.m. bus from Whistlerís Athletes Village to the Vancouver Athletes Village, get in around 10 a.m., drop off my bags with all of my opening ceremonies clothing, pick up my tickets, and book it to the Stadium. I was prepared for the day ahead Ö I was ready Ö but my teammate Erin wasn't!

Someone had decided to give up his hockey ticket and so at 7:30 a.m. I burst into our room and woke Erin up and told her that we have half an hour to finish her packing and get to the bus! It was mass chaos, but by some other will she made it! It all was honestly working out too perfect.

To be completely perfect, the US would have won, but those boys fought their hearts out on that ice. I remember playing when I was younger (my Dad being my coach) and he always emphasized to ďnever quit playing, donít stop until the buzzer sounds,Ē and that team did just that. It almost gave me a heart attack! But that game was so unbelievable and I couldnít leave until the end, even though I was supposed to be back in the Village dressed and making my way to staging for the closing ceremonies, but lets be serious Ö priorities!

Immediately following the last goal of the game we booked it out of the stadium and I cannot even describe the city. The entire city was screaming, people were yelling and cheering and chanting off their balconies, horns were blaring, cars were honking Ö the pride and the unity that was being shown was what the Games are all about to me.

In the end we made closing ceremonies. It was such a great show, but it was so bittersweet. It didnít seem possible that it was over! The show was beautiful, and at the end when all the athletes are told to go down to the stage, I have never seen so many people trading! I honestly couldnít part with my Ralph Lauren outfit but people were walking away decorated in pieces of clothing from all around the world.

But now weíre here, in the airport, working off seven hours of sleep, and to be honest, Iím ready for a break. I could not imagine having the Olympics every year or even every two years! Iím pretty sure that I wouldnít survive. These Games though were monumental to so many sports, so many athletes, even the USA won the record for most medals (37!) won by a single country, breaking the previous record from 2002.

I just am honored to be able to represent my country so I thank everyone for supporting me and I canít wait to see what the future holds! The near one though is a beach, sun, and about 3 days of sleep ...

Day One at the luge track

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff February 16, 2010 08:30 AM


On a training run on Monday, Megan Sweeney sailed past a pair of spectators who appeared more interested in capturing their own moment. (Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

Luger Megan Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., will provide insight and commentary in occasional blog posts for Boston.com throughout the Winter Olympics.

The first two runs are done Ö and Iím sitting in last. I really donít know what to say, to be honest. I canít make excuses anymore because in reality I should have this start down.

I shouldnít be messing things up like I am. As a competitor, itís hard to accept my performances. I know that no matter my result, my friends and family are all there to support me, itís just that for me personally I KNOW I can do better. Iím not saying that I should be in medal contention (because to be realistic and completely honest I never saw myself on the podium -- my sliding just isnít of that quality yet -- but a top 15 was a very feasible goal.

Tomorrow is going to be tough because I donít have anything to lose. I should be able to sit at the handles, pull off, and let it all out on the track. One of our coaches has many witty sayings that he always seems to pull out at just the right time to make us laugh or smile or to break that anger edge we sometimes get, and he says ďWell, it has to be better because worse is impossible!Ē

But the thing I have to be careful of is putting too much pressure on myself to try and redeem my race.

Thatís the most frustrating thing about luge -- it seems the more I try, the worse I do. The less I try, the more success comes my way. Why is that? It should be a simple equation of what you put in is what you get back, no? We will see how tomorrow goes and Iíll be sure to report back which approach was the input, and the output will be apparent Ö

The view from inside the opening ceremony

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff February 14, 2010 11:50 AM

Luger Megan Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., will provide insight and commentary in occasional blog posts for Boston.com throughout the Winter Olympics.

To say that my opening ceremonies experience was all that I had dreamed of and more would be a lie.

I canít ignore the fact that one of our fellow luge athletes wasnít getting the chance to walk. He wasnít getting the chance to fulfill his Olympic dream. Our small sliding community was shaken by the sudden death of one of our own and on a day like Friday, it brought a sense of reality to an otherwise outrageous hype.

The day started with the menís training and yes, there were some crashes, but that is nothing out of the ordinary. I was watching the training session and decided to make my way back to the Village before the end so that I could rest up before the 2.5-hour drive down to Vancouver and the madness that was sure to ensue when marching.

Upon arrival at the Village I was checking my e-mail when a bobsled friend of mine called to inquire about the news. I had no idea what he was talking about at first but quickly learned of the tragedy. Our team pulled together along with the rest of the luge community and though not all of us decided to walk in the opening ceremonies, my team did. We were going to support USA, our flag-bearing teammate, and the luge world.

We all quickly dressed in our uniforms, congregated in front of the USA housing with the rest of the US athletes and boarded a bus along with Poland and Cypress that would take us down to Vancouver. We were quite the sight to behold! We had a total of 10 buses, a tag-team of police escorts, and helicopter security.

People would honk their horns, wave out their windows and just stop on the highway to watch. The most humbling site for me was a construction worker. He doesnít know me, yet in the middle of his workday, he stopped, got out of his truck, and stood there with his hard-hat over his heart and watched our entire procession. That respect, that hope, that integrity that he showed to a caravan of strangers is what makes me proud to be an athlete.

The rest of the ride down to Vancouver I spent trying to get my emotions in check and psyching myself up for what I had been waiting so long for -- my chance to represent the USA in opening ceremonies. We finally got to Vancouver (fortunately before the protesters arrived, which blocked some athletes from coming into staging) and went directly to the BC Arena along with all of the other athletes.

It was incredible to see everyone united and ready to make the trek into the stadium Ö but we were going to wait FOREVER! Itís to be expected, and everyone was so excited, but it was SO HOT!! So many bodies, so many puffy jackets and sweaters (but we looked good!) Fortunately, my body has a very high threshold when it comes to heat so I was fine until an hour later when we were still waitingÖ but we managed!

Some fared better than others, but behind the scenes the reality of competition was setting in. Our teammate and flag bearer, Mark Grimmette was concerned initially that the flag would be extremely heavy and the positioning of it could hurt his back for our races. The speed skaters that were lined up behind us were sitting on the concrete floor or in chairs that they could snag so as to save their legs, and my teammates and I were joking (half-hearted) about how much weight we were losing because we were sweating it all out! But as the lines started moving to the tunnel entrance, all that subsided.

Volunteers and performers were standing along the sides taking pictures and cheering us on. When one country would start chanting, the rest would try and outdo them. Every time Mark raised our USA sign, we would all start whooping and hollering, clapping, and screaming ďU-S-A!! U-S-A!!Ē But when we turned the corner, saw the lights, cameras, and people, there was a split second that everyone just stopped.

My body got a shake, and as we moved onto the stage covered in fake snow, all I could feel was the drumming of the natives beside us. The clapping was deafening, and I wanted to cry. My smile could have broken my face, it was so big! For two minutes my life felt complete. I rounded the stage, sprinted up the stairs and was about to sit down when our cue -- ďthe athletes tribute songĒ -- came on the big screen and I had to leave the show because I had training the next morning.

I am sad that I didnít get to see the show, but at the end of the day, I am here for business. I am here to race. So closing ceremonies will be my time to enjoy the show and all that it has to offer!†

For sliders, there's always an element of danger

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff February 12, 2010 08:25 AM

Luger Megan Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., will provide insight and commentary in occasional blog posts for Boston.com throughout the Winter Olympics.

Probably one of the top 5 questions asked of a slider is ďWhatís the most dangerous part of your sport?Ē

Thatís a really, really hard question to answer because there are so many factors of luge that can be considered dangerous to someone who has never tried it.

To be quite honest, most injuries that occur on our team happen off the track. Itís during a soccer game where we all play like professionals minus the skills. Itís the extra 10 feet on a cliff that we climb before we jump off or the fact that I thinking going bungee jumping in the winter on my birthday is going to be FANTASTIC!

Iím convinced thereís a MAJOR lack of neurological firing when it comes to a fear factor because for some reason we push the edge in everything we do.

But there are two instances that Iíve become aware of that honestly, scare me to death. The first I noticed in Park City while walking up the track early one morning. It had just snowed and underneath that snow was black ice. I can understand slipping down the mountain, but up? It was the fear of the unknown that one wrong step and I could be flat on my face that freaked me out.

The second instance is also the fear of the unknown, and todayís training in Whistler made that apparent. No matter how many mind runs are completed, no matter how many ACTUAL runs I have on a track or how confident of a slider I am there is a moment at the start handles after the track is cleared where I surrender myself to the unknown.

This mainly applies to the first run on the track, but sometimes thereís a lack of mental stability where my fear creeps in and I just have to reiterate to myself that itís nothing new. But that first run, that first pull on the handles and the release where I can feel the sled speeding down the start ramp, all I think to myself is ďWell! Here we go! Thereís no turning back now!Ē

My Mom applies a lot of her business wisdom into our sports psychology/venting sessions and one trend that she keeps pushing upon me (and yes, Mom, I do actually listen!) is to ďKeep it simple, stupid.Ē So thatís what I have to break it down to. All Iím really doing is a form of glorified sledding; thereís nothing but the ice, my sled, and me. Thereís nothing special about that.

Iíve had more runs this year in Whistler than I took before my races in Calgary, Canada or Igls, Austria or Winterberg, Germany Ö so Iíve just got to break it down. Keep my head on straight, and know that my moment of despair has passed with two race-training runs down, four more to go, and then itís the big day!†

Luger Grimmette to carry US flag

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff February 11, 2010 07:52 AM

Mark Grimmette, a luge racer who is the US's career-leading international medals winner, has been chosen to carry the American flag at tomorrow's Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony.

Grimmette won a silver medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and bronze at the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan, but did not finish at the 2006 games in Turin. He is from Muskegon, Mich.

The nod for American flag holder usually goes to an "elder statesman" type from one of the less-mainstream Olympic sports. Captains from each of the teams nominate and vote for the flag bearer.

For Megan Sweeney, Opening Ceremonies can't arrive soon enough

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff February 8, 2010 09:29 AM

Luger Megan Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., will provide insight and commentary in occasional blog posts for Boston.com throughout the Winter Olympics.

On Friday morning, I woke up before my alarm and my second thought after "I have to pay my credit card" was "It's officially one week." We were 7 days from opening ceremonies. Eleven years of building to this dream and now it's only days away.

I don't know how to feel about this, I don't know how to act. I'm obviously elated and living every moment, but even after a month of knowing that I'm heading to the Games, it still feels somewhat surreal.†The moment I'm walking with all of Team USA in the opening ceremonies I think is when it's going to feel real.†

In Torino, I was in the stands for opening ceremonies watching all the athletes walk in. I saw the absolute look of joy on their faces and in my stomach I had this glowing sensation that I now realize was my body physically reacting to jealousy. I wanted to be on that floor with the cameras in my face, the hat on my head, two of my best friends on each side of me ... I wanted it all, and right there I KNEW that I wasn't just saying I wanted to make the Olympics anymore. I really, truly, absolutely meant it. The hardest lesson I've learned since then is that things are easy to say and not necessarily so easy to do. But these are the Olympics we're talking about ... it's not meant to be easy.

Life is peculiar, and as my Mom says, "growing up SUCKS!" But I know that on Friday when I'm walking into opening ceremonies (totally rocking my Ralph Lauren outfit!), next to two of the best teammates and the rest of the USA's top athletes, my family watching in the crowd ... that's when the choices, lessons, trials and triumphs won't matter anymore because I've accomplished my life's biggest goal to date and I'm going to enjoy every last moment of it.

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