Kelowna Olympian returns home from Tokyo, says biggest challenge for an athlete is mental | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna Olympian returns home from Tokyo, says biggest challenge for an athlete is mental

Kelowna swimmer Kierra Smith at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Kierra Smith
August 06, 2021 - 7:30 AM

The biggest challenge for an Olympic swimmer is not the four hours a day spent training in the water, it’s the other 20 hours spent inside your head preparing for the moment.

Kelowna swimmer Kierra Smith placed seventh in the women’s breaststroke event, July 25 at the Tokyo Olympic Games. The games wrap up Aug. 8.

Now the 27-year-old is back in Kelowna, relaxing with friends and family. She said the easy part of being an Olympian is the training because it’s similar to what she’s been doing as a teenager for her swim meets.

Kelowna Olympian Kierra Smith
Kelowna Olympian Kierra Smith
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Kierra Smith

“It’s the out of the pool stuff that’s hard. It’s the pressure that’s hard and the expectations and worrying about sleep and getting enough quality of sleep and what you’re eating and quality of eating and who you’re hanging out with, and the words in your head,” Smith said.

“Just thinking of those things all of the time and trying to make sure you’re a perfect athlete outside of the pool, it’s those 20 hours a day that are really hard so I think we all just need a break to relax and not worry about that.”

When she gets the itch to head back to the pool, she’ll begin training again for the next summer Olympics in Paris in 2024.

“I was really proud of persevering the last 20 months. There was a lot of pressure and the ups and downs were maybe more severe or dramatic than normal just with the unknowns with the games,” she said.

The Tokyo 2020 games were originally postponed due to the pandemic and there was uncertainty in what the games would look like in the middle of the pandemic. The Olympics also drew criticism since Tokyo is currently under a COVID-19 state of emergency.

READ MORE: Yes. Tokyo Olympics are 'a go' despite opposition, pandemic

“Getting through those and performing pretty close to my best, I’m very very proud of that,” she said. “I’m not going to forget that process and what I can endure.”

She finished her race with a 1:07 time, not her fastest mark. In training, she reached times of 1:06, she said, adding she experienced the feeling of disappointment immediately after touching the wall.

“Everything was leading up to a fast swim and it wasn’t and so I was disappointed and it was after that I got perspective,” she said.

READ MORE: 'It doesn’t seem like reality': Kelowna swimmer's Olympic dream on hold

Prior to the pandemic, Smith was training at the University of Minnesota but that changed when borders began to close. She graduated from the university in 2017 with a psychology and communications degree. In 2016, in the Rio Olympics, she finished seventh in the 200-metre breaststroke and 17th in the 100-metre breaststroke.

To train, she practiced at Parkinson Recreation Centre in Kelowna with her coach, a place where she originally learned to swim.

Having competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics, this time around she also felt better prepared to handle the pressure of being an Olympian.

“Having that knowledge and that confidence really helped me out this time,” she said.

In Tokyo, videos of Olympians using cardboard beds went viral on social media, prompting rumours the beds were made to prevent sex, which were debunked.

But Smith said she had no problem sleeping in one of them.

“The beds, you could customize them to whatever firmness you wanted them to be. I can sleep anywhere so honestly it didn’t bother me but I’m grateful to be back in my own bed, I’ll tell you that. That’s part of it too, being in the Olympic village, it’s never going to be a luxury experience but they did a really good job setting up a safe games but they were cool, they were sustainable,” she said.

Compared to Rio 2016, Smith said the biggest difference has been that she’s home now with her family, instead of celebrating overseas.

Following an event, normally athletes can relax, meet other athletes from other countries and celebrate with friends and family.

“But I do get to hang out with my family now and celebrate the last five years of work with them, because they put in as much work as I did. They felt all the same stresses and pressures that I did,” she said.

For now though, the pressure is gone and she’s taking a well-earned break.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © iNFOnews, 2021

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