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Wednesday, March 6, 2013
After highs and lows, I'm ready for worlds

By Emily Cook

Emily Cook
Emily Cook won the World Cup finale in Bukovel, Ukraine, placing her second in the world overall for the season.

Exactly one year before the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, our team arrived in Sochi, ready for snowy weather and a world-class competition: The Sochi World Cup and Olympic test event would be held a week later, on Feb. 17.

But on our first day there, I went for a run on the beach with my teammate Allie Lee. We weaved through palm trees in tank tops and tights and finished with a swim in the black sea. We wondered whether winter would grace Sochi with its presence, but we were thankful to have a beautiful introduction to our Olympic host city.

Emily Cook
Emily Cook and other skiers on the U.S. aerials team wade into the Black Sea during the Sochi Olympic test event.

The next day we found ourselves 40 kilometers away at an elevation of 3,800 feet, surrounded by the stunning Greater Caucasus mountain range in the alpine village of Rosa Khutor. Though higher and certainly a bit colder there, our first night’s training was canceled -- the jumps simply couldn’t handle the warm weather and were falling apart. Throughout the week we saw rain, sleet, snow and fog as organizers scrambled to keep the jumps in one piece. Training times were altered to keep the fragile site together and chemicals and dry ice were used daily to create pseudo-cold conditions.

Finally, we were allowed to jump, with training times starting at 8:30 p.m. and concluding by 11 -- late at night, but cold enough to be effective. Dry ice clouded the air and the fog was so thick, we had to simply trust that once far enough down the inrun, the jumps and ultimately the landing hill would appear. Jumping in the fog requires a lot of trust. But, surprisingly, I jumped great and was thrilled with the way the site had turned out.

On competition day, freezing rain turned to snow the moment training finished and the qualification round started. The conditions coming into the jumps changed drastically, slowing us down as we approached. We did our best to adjust, but I was affected and made a mistake big enough to keep me from the final. I was devastated. I cried my eyes out, my heart ached and I wondered how it was possible that I could have made such a mistake.

However, every successful athlete knows that the only real failure is not learning from our mistakes. So, I wallowed in my misery for about an hour and then moved on, watching the final and absorbing as much information as possible. Today I am thankful this happened a year from the Olympics rather than next season. I know what adjustments need to be made and my coaches and I have now had the chance to study the intricacies of the Olympic site in order to be fully prepared for whatever comes my way at the Games.

Emily Cook
Emily Cook does a headstand atop the (much colder) mountains by the village of Rosa Khutor near Sochi.

I also have learned that sometimes an athlete needs to hit rock bottom before learning lessons necessary to take the next step to success. It can be painful, but setbacks are a part of the process. Throughout the next week I dug deep, and my coaches and I studied my mistakes in Sochi, searching for what was missing that would make the difference in my jumping.

When I arrived in Bukovel, Ukraine, for the World Cup finale, I realized I would have a little extra time on my hands, waiting for my ski bag, which had gotten lost in transit from Sochi, and recovering from a sickness picked up during the two travel days to Ukraine. The more time I had to think about Sochi, the more determined I became to improve my performance this coming week.

My bags arrived the day before competition and I had a chance to take a few training jumps on the Bukovel hill. The organizers did a fantastic job preparing a brand-new site and I performed some of my best jumps of the season that day. The next morning in competition, I stayed focused on each individual round, advancing throughout the day to the final round of four and ultimately finishing the night standing at the top of the World Cup podium, my first World Cup win in two seasons.

My teammate Dylan Ferguson landed on his first World Cup podium of the season with a second-place finish, and teammates Kiley McKinnon and Mike Rossi were named 2013 Rookies of the Year. It was an incredible night. Since this event was the World Cup finale, my victory launched me up in the 2013 rankings to second place -- a career-best season.

I couldn’t be more excited about this finish to the regular season. We headed home to Utah for three days to rest our minds and bodies in preparation for the last international competition of the season, the world championships in Voss, Norway. The win in Ukraine leaves me feeling confident and prepared for worlds, and I feel ready to step up my game and try a jump that I have not had the chance to use yet this season (an additional variation of a triple-twisting double backflip) in order to push the envelope and leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of my best performance. I love Norway and am thrilled to have the chance to compete for a world championship here on Thursday!