Micha Powell Olympic Experience
By Micha Powell
It’s 1:30 a.m. and my heart is pounding. I hear a familiar chime coming from my laptop. I brace myself and read the subject line of the new email I just received. CONGRATULATIONS. It was at that exact moment, that I know my life had been altered. I was officially and Olympian.
It hadn’t fully hit me that I would be representing Canada in the 4x400m at the Olympics until the official press release at City Hall in Edmonton. Numerous French-Canadian stations were interviewing me left and right. Since I was born in Montreal and speak French, the media made sure to get my perspective on continuing my family’s track legacy to the French speaking community.
I went to visit my family in Montreal to regroup and celebrate my nomination. I was overjoyed to spend time with friends and loved ones before I left for Rio de Janeiro on July 30th. I was restless. The only thing I could think of before going to bed every night was how much I wanted to run my best in Rio. I was already looking forward to experiencing the Olympic Village and everything Brazil had to offer with my coaches and teammates on Team Canada.
On July 31st, athletes of all different sports, including myself, were greeted at Toronto Pearson Airport with cheers and hundreds of Canadian flags on display reminding us where we came from. I was nervous but excited to make Canada proud. Of the 10-hour long plane ride to Rio, I only slept for three.
I arrived and settled in Juiz de Fora, prepared to endure a nine-day training camp in the mountains away from the busy Olympic Village. The hotel was stunning, overlooking the city, which blossomed with plants that I had never seen before. We were sharing the hotel with Team China, Estonia, Qatar and Latvia. However, we never saw them at the track since we had our own time reserved to keep from distractions. The track facilities were fantastic. They had a gym filled with equipment just for us and the track had a jungle behind it that looked like a fake backdrop. It felt like we were training in the middle of the Amazon. Our attachées were so kind to us and loved whenever we said a simple greeting in Portuguese. They even told us that we were their favorite team because we put an effort to interact with them. Realizing how important it is to find that human connection despite not speaking the same language as someone made me even more aware of how crucial it is to have good communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal.
Every practice day, the police escort us to our training facility. On-lookers wave and smile as we pass by them. While we were training, a crowd started to form behind the fence and within minutes we had a fan section. The locals were intrigued by our athleticism and knew we were not from the area. As they became bolder, they asked us for pictures and I was happy to oblige. I felt like a celebrity.
It’s the last day in Juiz de Fora and I had a successful practice. I did a 4x100m workout around the track, which consisted of running a 100m at every part of the track, replicating my 400m race. I was flying! The anticipation for the games to begin made me run faster with every step. My mother has been an essential component of easing my nerves. She’s been my coach and mentor during this training experience. If it wasn’t for her guidance I would have been less confident in my abilities.
Let the Games Begin
Arriving at the Olympic Village in Rio knowing this would be where I was going to live for the next week and a half felt unbelievable. We had everything at our disposal. A 24-hour dining hall, snack stations, gyms, arcade, health services and transportation that could take us to any venue we wanted to go to. Since I would not compete for a few more days, I took the opportunity to talk to athletes from different countries about their experience so far and traded pins with them. This is a tradition at the Olympics. Trading pins represents a new appreciation for a country that you interacted with and would have most likely never have the opportunity to do so. I traded with countries like Eritrea, Trinidad and Tobago and Croatia. This sense of community was what made living in the Olympic Village so special.
I had an enlightening conversation with two coaches from Djibouti at the dining hall. They told me about the differences within their population. There are three different types of people who live in Djibouti: Arab, Afar and Somali. They were eager to say that Djibouti promotes peace above everything else. Later that day, I was loudly cheering for one of their athletes who advanced to the semis of the 800 meters, feeling a sense of pride that I wouldn’t have felt had I not talked to his coaches.
It was the last day of competition. This marked the day of the 4x400m finals. I was nervous because I had not run the night before with the rest of the girls but they ran a great time of 3:24.92 and I was looking forward to showing the world how fast I could run. We were ranked just behind our toughest competitors, Great Britain, Jamaica and the United States. But I knew that with my kick I could close the gap and make us medal contenders. As I was warming up for the final race, the 4x400m lineup was announced and I had not been chosen to run. I was devastated. It didn’t make sense to me. I had done everything right. I stayed healthy and positive the entire trip. I knew I had to keep a poker face and cheer on my teammates from the stands. In a melancholy end to the day, we came in fourth. A part of me will always wonder if we could have medalled had I been put in the relay but I have come to terms with the coaches’ decision.
Closing Ceremonies: The Aftermath
The closing ceremonies were magical. We were all ushered together at the same time. No order. No worries. IT was exciting to walk into the stadium with athletes from different countries side by side, forgetting about who won or who lost. Just focusing on being in the moment. It was pouring, which made the experience even more memorable. My teammates and I were laughing and dancing and care-free. My favorite part of the closing ceremonies was joining the festivities. We were allowed to go onstage with the dancers and put on their costumes. It turned into a huge party where colors and shapes blurred together. The energy was contagious. I will never forget the feeling of dancing in front of the world and realizing I was a part of a moment only a handful of people will ever get to live firsthand.
My Olympic debut had not gone as I expected but I learned some valuable lessons from it. I had made some incredible talented new friends and at the age of 21 can still call myself and Olympian despite not racing on the world stage.
I am already looking forward to making the 2020 Canadian Olympic team for Tokyo and using my determination to set my goals even higher and compete not only in the relay but also in the individual 400m. This year’s focus is to make it to the 2017 Track and Field World Championships in London and run unafraid. I am still young to the sport but I am hungrier than ever to leave my mark in track history by pushing my limits and going for gold.