The 1972 Winter Olympics were held in Sapporo, Japan—and I competed in them. The new stars in ski racing were there—Annemarie Proell, Michele Jacot, Marie-Therese Nadig, my sister Marilyn—along with a few of the old—Wiltrud Drexel, Annie Famose, Isabelle Mir. For some, the Games would be a beginning; for others, they would be the end.
My last race was the slalom. I walked up the hill as cold, wet flakes fell around me. Slowly, step by step, gate by gate, I memorized the course. It was smooth and rhythmical. The only tough spots were the bumps.
I skied a couple of runs and felt good. I could only wait for the start. I ran number one.
Ten minutes before the race…The rep checked my bindings. The coach spread wax on my skis. I pumped my legs up and down to get the blood flowing. Seven minutes left…I unzipped my warm-ups and handed them to the coach. The wind whipped snow into my face and chilled my muscles. I slid into the tent. Four minutes… The first forerunner stepped into the starting gate. The coach rubbed my legs. I tried to relax. Three minutes… The forerunner left. Another moved into place. Two minutes… I pulled off my parka and was left alone. One minute…I stepped up to the gate. Twenty seconds…Planted my poles. Ten seconds…Took three deep breaths. Five, four, three, two, one, GO!
I lunged out of the start. The first turns were impossibly slow. I swung through the open gates, up under the hairpin, and across the hill. Then over the bumps. Good, I was through. The flags blurred. I only reacted. Up ahead I saw the finish. Three quick turns and then I was skating and straining to get through. I stopped, looked at my time, and waited.
Britt Lafforgue was number three. She had won the last slalom. If my time held up against hers, I should do well. She finished and was two tenths behind me. I had a chance.
Then I waited for Daniele Debernard. She was young and would go all out. She looked good. Her time lit up on the board. I was ahead of her by three hundredths!
Marilyn started and fell.
I watched a few more and my excitement grew. I was leading after the first run! I had a chance to win!
But I had to calm down. I had another course to memorize—one more run to go.
I tried to learn the course. I couldn’t concentrate. Finally my coach skied down and gave me my parka and warm-ups. He had a smile on his face, but he didn’t say much.
Marilyn stopped to pick up her parka. She was quiet and disappointed. She talked to the coach and then burst into tears. The slalom was her last race, too. She wanted to do well in the Olympics.
She looked up and managed a smile for me. She was happy that I was ahead and wished me luck for the next run.
I started to choke. I was excited and thought, ” I really could win an Olympic gold medal!” That’s all that kept going through my head—-could I do it? Could I put down a good second run? What did I have to do to keep the lead? I thought, “I’m in the Olympics—the ultimate race of all time; the pinnacle of what I’ve been training for for years! This is it! I want to win! I want to beat those French girls! What if I win an Olympic gold medal????!!!!! But what if I don’t???? What if I fall? What if I mess up???? What if I don’t ski well????”
The more I let these thoughts come into my mind, the more I could feel myself losing it— I was choking. I was getting tense. I knew I wouldn’t ski well if I kept this up. I gave myself a little pep talk. I told myself, “Come on B.A.! You’ve got to change how you’re thinking because right now this isn’t working!” As I continued on my way, I fought to stay calm. I reminded myself, “I can only do my best.” I built up my confidence, “If the French girls can win, I can, too!” I prepared myself for defeat,” Even if I don’t win, I’ve won the first run and not very many people have done that! So, no matter what happens in this second run, I can always be proud of what I’ve already accomplished!”
I thought of my father. I thought of what he told me at the World Championships two years before—that I was the “cool cucumber” in the family. And finally I was calm.
I hiked up the rest of the course. I could learn it now. It wasn’t difficult. It was much straighter and a little faster than the first one. I should do all right.
The minutes passed and then the second run started. I ran fifteenth this time.
The fog moved in. The wind blew. And the snow still fell. I could only see five gates out of the start.
Daniele left. Britt left. I didn’t know how anyone had done. And I didn’t care. I only wanted to do the best I could.
I moved up to the gate and waited for the countdown. Marilyn shouted a last good-luck. And then I was on the course.
The gates slid past me. My mind was numb. Turn after turn I had no thoughts except to get to the finish. I kept going and then I was through.
I had made it. I could have won, but I was too scared to look. I was stunned by silence. And then Rick and my brother yelled. I was surrounded by hugs and kisses and saw Rick and Bob tumbling over the fence. They ran to me and hoisted me to their shoulders.
Then I knew. I had won. I had won by the closest margin in history up to that point. Danielle Debernard, who had finished three hundredths of a second behind me on the first run, beat me by a hundredth the second run. But overall, I beat her by two hundredths.
What I didn’t know when I was standing in the starting gate for the second run, was that she had beat everyone else by about a second with that run. I’m glad I didn’t know that because I’m not sure I would have been able to hold onto my confidence. I would have started to doubt my ability. I would have started to think, “How did she do that? What do I have to do to ski that fast? Can I ski that fast????” At that point I would have been ready to try too hard. I would have stopped believing in myself. I wouldn’t have had the faith in me that I was capable of doing the same thing.
But I didn’t know. I was just ready to do my best and accept that all I could ask of myself was to put my best effort into the run. That’s all. Once I had put my best effort into it, that was enough. However I ended up, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. The lesson I learned that day? That doing your best is all that counts and doing your best is always good enough.