My brush with Skiing royalty

By Emily Ridlington, Sports Media Canada Special Correspondent and International Olympic Committee Young Reporter

Alright I will admit it and it’s rare that it happens but I was star struck.

It’s not every day you get to meet a renowned Olympic athlete. The trick is to remain composed, professional and think of her as just another everyday person. Then in the back of your mind you consider all the 27-year-old has accomplished. She said herself she still cannot believe she’s had 47 World Cup victories and several Olympic medals.

Lindsey Vonn

Olympic medalist Lindsey Vonn from the United States, an Athlete Role Model at the Youth Olympics was very down to earth when talking to a group of young athletes. Despite her busy travel schedule, Vonn just wants to chill out with friends like anybody else. While the media and society tends to glorify athletes based on their accomplishments giving them an almost hero like status sometimes they just want to escape the madness. As journalists we like to know all the details about the making of an athlete’s life: what they do for their training regime, how many hours they exercise, what the best pre-competition meal is and so on.

Athletes have been receiving media training on how to answer these formulaic questions and they’ve become standard and routine.  Vonn candidly told the athletes about how she got into the sport of skiing when she was nine-years-old and the sacrifices she had to make. Once she was finished the media had a chance to ask questions. No one came up with anything out of the ordinary and Vonn professionally shrugged off a question about the recent split of her husband. I was running around filming the entire ordeal and had too many things to work on and didn’t ask a question.

The tables turned once the athletes got a chance to take the microphones. It’s as if they were young journalists starting out who still thought creatively. Often times I think we get into a rut and lose our ability to think outside the box and catch the athletes off guard. This is how you get the most original quotes and best material for your blog, tweet, Facebook post or story. I witnessed this. Greta Small from Australia is an alpine skier and she want to know a more personal detail about Vonn: “Whether she wore lucky undies at her races?” This caught everyone including the famous athlete herself by surprise. After much laughter everyone got the answer they were looking for. Vonn shared with the crowd she doesn’t have one lucky pair but several and that they must match the most prominent colour in her racing suit. She’s also got a special necklace given to her by her siblings.

At this point, about halfway through the Games, Greta’s question, demeanour and style of approaching the athletes really stuck with me and I tried to think outside the box. It worked. At the skeleton competition, I noticed there was a Mexican athlete on the start list. Trying to think like Greta in the mixed zone I said some things in my broken Spanish to attract the athlete’s attention. It worked, he laughed and I got a great interview. Now-a-days in this business you’ve got to be original, be on your toes and try to stand out and above the competition even if it means asking unique questions or stumbling over a couple sentences in a foreign language.

Photo credit: IOC Young Reporter Raitis Purins