Change, challenge & a quick word on COVID-19

Canada’s Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle, post race., 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games. Tragically, a bomb had gone off the night before creating uncertainty if the Games would continue or not . (CP PHOTO/COA/Mike Ridewood)

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Everyone seems to be talking about the COVID-19 and increasingly your Olympics are being pulled into the conversation.  As your Chef de Mission, I want you to know that our priority is the health and safety of every Team Canada member. Stay focused on your preparation, the Tokyo 2020 Games are still very much on. As we all do with all the unplanned events that happen between now and the Games – we will assess and respond accordingly. Talk to your coaches and team leaders; be informed, and try not to let all the speculation distract you. The night before my Olympic final in Atlanta, a bomb went off tragically killing and injuring people. I woke not knowing if there would be delays or cancellations to my race; we didn’t know until we got to our venue what was going to happen. I’m glad we chose to stay focused and arrive ready; it was a gold medal day. The current situation is more drawn out which allows for more uncertainty and speculation. The COC is working with the IOC and our own medical team on this quickly evolving situation to protect your health and performance. We are all in this together and will do our best to keep you informed. 

There are less than 150 days until the Olympics. (How did that happen?!)

What’s your goal? When you are at the Closing Ceremony – how do you want to feel?

At the Sochi Olympics I had separate but similar conversations with two different athletes from completely different sports. A few days before their competitions, both athletes remarked that after everything they had done and everything they had been through – they just wanted to come off their field-of-play happy. (Both of these athletes were medalists from Vancouver, and… spoiler alert– both would win medals again in Sochi.)

Without question a gold medal was their target, but as veterans, they knew another goal had to be to “finish happy”. In competition – all you can control is you; we hope that our performance is the best out there. But you can’t control your competitors, the conditions or the judges… winning is uncontrollable. At the end of the day, regardless of the result – you want to know you did EVERYTHING that you could do to reach your goal. No matter what happens – at least part of you should be happy with knowing you did that.

So, separately over a coffee before their competitions began, we strategized about how to make “happy” happen. How do we finish happy and why is it important? Sure, winning alone can make you happy (and/or relieved) – but you can’t walk onto your field-of-play feeling that something isn’t right and expect sport to magically make you happy. That’s your job. That’s on you to control. Odds are high that if you weren’t happy starting the competition it’s because you know something has been left undone. So… if the goal is to come off the field-of play happy– these veterans knew that it was important to go onto the field-of-play happy. They also agreed it’s easier to win that way! <wink> 


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Can I? Will I?” And Your Three Choices

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The path to achieving your goals will challenge you many, many times. These challenging moments are what stress you, and they are also what makes what you are doing so very, very exciting. I’ve come to believe that stress is the spice of life; don’t wish it away! Stress occurs for goals that you care about; completion of a task, the quality of your result or external feedback (technical), responses from others (emotional), etc. If you care, there is stress. If you don’t, there isn’t. I have no doubt that you care about your Olympic goals – a lot!

Challenges occur all the time, not just in competition. Some are routine like, “Will I be on time for practice?”, and some are intense, like “Will I give 100% of what I’ve got today?” or “Can I dig-down right now or will I ‘mail it in’?”  Not all of your challenges will be physical, some will come when someone asks something like – Can you help? Can you change? Can you try?

I call these challenging moments “Can I? Will I?” moments. They can force us to question our accountability, our commitment, and even our goals. Our reaction to each challenging moment is to ask ourselves,: “Can I do this?” And then, more importantly: “Will I do this?”

Sometimes our – ‘yes!’  answers come so easily that the moment flies by almost unnoticed… but not always.

I believe that each time we ask ourselves ‘Can I? Will I?’, we have three choices: 

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Happy New Year, Will it be a Resolution or a Promise to Yourself?

Happy New Year! 

This is a note that I wrote for Team Canada; athletes, coaches, support staff and mission team. There will be many between now and the Tokyo Olympic Games. The final Olympic Team won’t be named until early in the summer, so until then – this message is going to those who are sure things, likely/maybes and long shots; it’s going to everyone who is dreaming of more for and from themself in 2020.

Quick question: How long has 2020 been the target of your radar?  

For me, there’s something incredibly special about Jan 1.  of an Olympic year. It’s different isn’t it? Kind of a “Game on!!!” 

When I was competing, my Olympic New Year resolutions had to do with me being ready to kick ass at the upcoming Games! I can vividly remember the impact of knowing that it’s finally My Olympic year. — Yeah!!! The dream is so close! Woah. The dream is so close. it’s amazing and scary all at the same time. What a rush!

My first Olympic New Year was 1992 (don’t judge!). I was so pumped about the potential of the year ahead; everything was going as planned. And then, about 12 days later, while I was being an idiot with a house mate, I felt the MCL in my knee blow, then I felt my heart break: What had I done? I was the reigning World Champion in 2 events: This was supposed to be my year. I learned right then that I have faith in something and I prayed. I prayed desperately that I wasn’t at the end.

Luckily – it turns out that rowers don’t really need an MCL for rowing. With a great knee brace and some adaptations for my weightlifting I was back training and on the water by the end of January. But I’d seen it. In my mind, I’d seen the complete destruction of my goal. I didn’t want that to ever happen again. 

I decided two things: 

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Comfort vs Magic

This message is really simple – and at the same time it is what makes everything so hard. No matter what your role is within your sport – your rank in Canada, or in the World, my guess is that in this next year you want to do more than you’ve ever done before. To do that you’ll have to be outside of your comfort zone way more than you’re in it. That is where magic often happens.

The above image has been around for a while, I first saw it when an adventurer, Bruce Kirkby, encouraged an audience to alter their routine, get out of their comfort zone and find their own adventure. It’s not just about what we physically do, it is also about exploring the boundaries that we set when we dream; set directions, intentions and goals. We can’t expect to be comfortable while trying to do something hard, aka new, special, or magical (Yes, this is the whole ‘be comfortable being uncomfortable’ speech). We have to let that comfort go. 

Trust in your preparation plan—all of it – for qualification, selection and competitions. Let your experiences (and those of your team mates, your coaches) give you confidence – your (collective) “done list” is massive! Trust that you are experienced; trust that you are really good and that you’re doing everything in your power to be better. And then, with all that trust in your back pocket…. let yourself stretch; reach physically, mentally and emotionally.

Your job every day is to shift and grow your comfort zone by getting out of it.

Chat soon, 


Marnie McBean OC OLY

Chef de Mission Team Canada Tokyo 2020

p.s.   Think of this as a talking point; you may agree with me, maybe disagree… I welcome replies and questions. Let it serve as a conversation starter, a heads up or reminder to the ups and downs that are a natural point of believing that you can do more than just go, more than just compete, but compete at your very BEST at your Olympics. My goal will never be to add to your stress, but to help you wear it well.