How The Olympic Games Engulfed Me
Having experienced the power of the Olympic Games firsthand, German bobsledder Tobi Schneider shares the highs and lows of performing on sport's biggest stage.
For four years, I didn’t skip a single squat repetition in my training. For four years I put off meeting with my friends when they wanted to barbecue in the English Garden in Munich. For four years, I put my family second to squeeze in another training session. For four years I talked over and over again about what it means to compete in the Olympic Games. I spent four years preparing for this moment. But when I got there, I realized: I’m not prepared at all. Nothing can prepare you for this.
The Olympic goals were more than a life goal for me. Of course, we all work towards something in our jobs, but you still can’t compare it with what I’ve done. I don’t mean that to sound pejorative, but there hasn’t been a day over the last four years where I haven’t visualized the competition.
“I thought about nothing but the competition, training and nutrition – 24 hours a day, seven days a week for four years.”Tobi Schneider, Olympic Bobsledder
The pressure to perform
I thought I was prepared, but when I arrived in China I wasn’t just thrown around a bit by the force that the Games stirs, I really started to slide. The size and the importance I’d pinned to the event was something I could never have imagined.
We were in China from the beginning of the Games – first in a hotel, then in the Olympic Village. Our competition took place on the last weekend. That’s two weeks to reflect and prepare. Two weeks in which we witnessed German athletes celebrating one success after another on the ice track. The pressure on us increased with every medal.
Then, in the week before our competition, I questioned everything. Everything. When should I go to bed? What do I eat? How do I move? How do I train? Nothing seemed certain. It was brutal.
What a difference six hundredths of a second can make
These Olympic Games swallowed me up. And when they spat me out again, we’d come fourth. Six hundredths of a second was the gap between us and the bronze medal. Six hundredths is a joke after four runs in a four-man bobsleigh. Six hundredths. You dream of a medal, of course. And then suddenly there is this emptiness. It was even more blatant than the awareness of having missed the medal. It was just over.
“Without this mistake we would have won a medal.”Tobi Schneider, Olympic Bobsledder
Of course we went in search of those six hundredths that we had lost somewhere. We also found them. In turn six, our pilot Christoph Hafer stowed away in the fourth run. When we hit the barrier afterwards, I knew that that was it for the medal. The first tears started to flow immediately. Without this mistake we would have won a medal.
But we didn’t lose this medal in turn six. We had three and a half wonderful runs in Beijing. We were faster in the second, third and fourth run than the bobsled of Justin Kripps, who won bronze in the end. In the first run we couldn’t be faster than Kripps because we had a bad starting number, which came off the back of a bad World Cup season. This meant that in China we had to hope for the starting number draw instead of being seeded.
We got the starting number twelve, Kripps had the five. That means there were six other bobs between us and him on the track. Because the ice on the track was surprisingly fast, our chances had already decreased. Nevertheless we were good… but It was still too much.
The highs and lows of the Games
Despite our miss, the Olympics were still great. We have a very good pilot and he can rely on very good pushers. The cohesion in the German team was unique. In fact, Micha Salzer, my fellow pusher, with whom I shared the room, has not only become a friend, I now consider him family.
“In four years I will return from the Olympic Games with two medals.”Tobi Schneider, Olympic Bobsledder
At the same time, the Olympic Games were cruel. On the plane back we were asked for a group photo with the crew… but then after further clarification, they only wanted the medal winners and I was asked to return to my seat. That was the next blow, and it hurt all over again. That said, the whole experience will strengthen me for the years to come. It will propel me through hard training days and motivate me to overcome any injuries.
For me, it is already clear where my future lies: In four years I will return from the Olympic Games with two medals. Until then, I will work, I will put off my friends and I will talk. For four years.