Caroline Calve says she’ll be a completely different competitor when she arrives at the Sochi Winter Games from the one she was four years ago at the Vancouver Olympics.
“I’m not the same person,” the 35-year-old snowboarder said, explaining she feels much better equipped to face the Olympics this time.
“Four years goes by quickly but you learn and evolve. In my case, I became a true athlete.”
More focused and confident, Calve seems to be light years away from the athlete who had to settle for 20th place in the parallel giant slalom in Vancouver .
The native of Aylmer, Que., who came late to snowboarding, has steadily improved since her last Olympic outing.
She made history on Dec. 21, 2011, in Carezza, Italy, when she became the first Canadian woman to win a World Cup alpine event, taking gold in the parallel giant slalom.
The 2012-2013 season was her best. The three-time medallist in World Cup competitions finished third in cumulative slalom and parallel slalom (dual) rankings.
Her Olympic experience helped her to toughen up mentally.
“The Vancouver experience helped me figure out what I was missing to reach my full potential,” Calve said.
She made technical adjustments with American coach Rob Roy, who taught her the basics of the “European technique” of taking a more direct line from one gate to another, maximizing gravity.
But it’s a fine tuning of her psychological approach to her sport that has made the biggest impact.
“I’m a girl who tends to over-analyze,” she said. “I think all the time. It never stops. In competition, I have trouble letting go, thinking clearly and being relaxed.
“I understood the concepts. I knew I had to concentrate on the process and not the results. But how to apply it?”
Things clicked in Carezza and the trick was how to keep reproducing that positive mental state. Enter psychologist Pierre Beauchamp, who she met the following summer. He was able to help her pinpoint what would work.
“I didn’t need a psychologist who listens to what I have to say on a couch,” Calve said. “I was looking for a training program for my head, like I have at the gym.”
Beauchamp’s practical approach hit the mark. Together, they developed a plan to help her to be on “autopilot” during competition.
“I wrote down all the steps I needed to follow before and during competition,” she said. “The idea behind that is it all becomes automatic.
“I realized that I’m at my best when I’m relaxed, almost Zen. Before, when I got a good result, I thought it was because I was relaxed and was having a good day. All I wanted was for that to happen to me again during a major competition.
“I left it to chance. It’s better since I realized I can create this psychological state. The goal is to recreate being the master of the situation, not just hoping to have a good day.”
Calve has been doing this for a little over a year and can’t wait to see how it works out in Sochi, where she will have two chances to win a medal – in the parallel giant slalom and the parallel slalom events.
She’s not sure if she’ll continue in the sport once she returns from Russia, but she’s not ruling it out.
Calve admires former athletes like retired synchronized swimmer Sylvie Frechette, who stayed involved in her sport by working in public relations.
“I like to move and talk to people,” Calve said. “This is a ‘no-brainer’ for me.”