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Pressure, Expectation and Hope: Finding A Winning Combination

Champion kayaker Adam van Koeverden first captured the world’s attention at the 2004 Olympic Games, where he was a double medalist, with gold and bronze victories. Now, Adam bring his expertise in sport to the world stage. In this article he wrote for, he takes a realistic approach to what we can expect from our Canadian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Watch for Adam in Sochi commentating on behalf of CBC.

The Audacity of Hope is a book by the 44th and current President of the United States of America. He will not be attending the Sochi Olympic Games, but whenever I think about hope and expectation, as I have been in anticipation of Friday’s opening ceremony and the subsequent 16-day winter sport extravaganza, the title of Obama’s book springs to mind.

As an athlete, I’ve sometimes struggled with where on that hope-expectation spectrum I should gauge my confidence. Of course, I believe in myself, and I know I can win. Without getting too philosophical, I’ve wondered how close I can get to I should win, without crossing that threshold. I have never believed in destiny. I don’t believe that anyone is “supposed” to win. That’s why we compete. That’s the beauty of sport, there is no supposition.

Athletes need to be comfortable with the reality that it is their actions that will determine the outcome.

Hope isn’t enough for me either. It implies that I should simply have faith in some predestined result.

As a sports fan, I’ve had a different relationship with the expectation vs. hope scenario. I hope our athletes win all of the medals and then some. I get more nervous for my fellow Canadian Olympians than for anything save my own races. But is expecting them to win everything overly audacious?

I believe they can rise to the occasion and conquer the world in everything from alpine skiing to speed skating and everything in between (alphabetically and figuratively). But again, can and could, and shall and should are really different words.

It might seem like an entirely semantic problem, but I believe there’s something here. I’m constantly asked about the pressure we put on ourselves as athletes, and how the expectations of our great maple flavoured populace adds to that pressure.

First of all, athletes love pressure. They need it to perform. The great Billie Jean King (who Barack is sending to Sochi in his place) famously remarked that “pressure is a privilege.” If someone expects something great from you, then somewhere along the line you must have given them some reason to believe you can be great. That precedent of performance is crucial to an athlete’s ability to self motivate.

But what if instead of adding weight to the ample shoulders (Google: Lascelles Brown) of our Canadian Athletes, our expectations gave them a little spot, like in the gym (as if Lascelles needs a spotter). What if the pressure we put on our athletes to win, which is justified and important given our social investment, could give them that extra centimetre, that agonizing edge which is the difference between glory and disaster?

Trying to be the best in the world is innately audacious. That’s what makes these competitions so insanely exciting. Our athletes are willing to put themselves on the line, and do the most admirable thing. Try. They will sweat, bleed, gasp and cry, to try and get our maple flag up on the top spot and have them play our national anthem.

When our athletes win, it won’t be fate or a fulfillment of any destiny. The Canadian Olympic team has what it takes and they give their everything, everyday. They’ll win because they tried, and were the best.

So, I’m making a pledge. I am dispensing with any predestined expectation and prediction, but I’m going to do a heck of a lot more than hope. I’m putting my confidence in them. And I hope that helps.

Adam van Koeverden /