“It was nothing personal with (Gough),” said Smith. “It was just to the right time for an athlete preparing for the Olympics to change coaches. It’s a dream we’ve been preparing for for so long. It doesn’t work like that. All of a sudden you don’t have that eye you’re used to having. I think it affected me at the World Cups.”
Which is why Smith, Gehring and a handful of others formed Salt Lake International and hired Chun to be their coach. The athletes get a small stipend from the USOC if they qualify, but they must pay their own coach, pay for their own ice time and pay for any other costs associated with training.
It is a hardship, Smith said, but one she’s willing to endure to chase her Olympic dream.
“Last year was stressful, but mainly that’s because we weren’t able to train with the coaches who were helping us get results,” she said. “Consistency has been the biggest thing for us. We focus on training and getting the base that I need for the summer leading into the season.”
Hope and healing
But regardless of which camp athletes found themselves, the skaters all said they tried to make the best of an impossible situation.
“For me personally, competing and training are very separate,” said Dudek. “I push all of that other stuff aside. This is my job, and I have to perform.”
Smith said the athletes all have the same goal — to represent the U.S. as best they can through sport.
“I think no matter what, all of the athletes are about getting the best results possible,” Smith said, “whatever it takes to get there. I feel everybody is out for the same goal. We all go in the same direction — for gold.”
While the athletes are committed to working together, the atmosphere throughout the organization is said to be more healthy.
“Everything is more professional,” said Meek. “There is an expectation that if you don’t perform in a certain manner, then you’re out. There is also accountability, which we haven’t seen before.”
Gough said the reality is the athletes don’t have to be friends in order to be successful.
“It’s possible,” he said of whether or not the factions can form a cohesive team. “It is a work in progress. The reality is we’re going to have selections and we’ll see who makes the team. Let’s not have some misguided expectation over what we’re supposed to function like.”
Jayner sees the way athletes navigated last year’s chaos as testament to their toughness.
“The fact that I could get on the individual medal stand, and a lot of my teammates did the same thing,” he said, under last year’s pressure, under the scrutiny of last year, or sort of the clouds, if you can deal with this, then Sochi is going to be no problem.”
Jayner said the athletes are already coming together and believes they will continue to do so.
“I’m having a great summer,” he said. “I’m stronger than ever based on a lot of tests, and I know I’m not the only one.”
Dydek said athletes accepted the changes because they really didn’t have much choice.
“A lot of us kind of held our breath,” she said. “Things are so bad, we will accept the change, but we don’t know if its’ really for the better. We went through a lot of downs before we saw any time of improvement. This summer things have been a lot better.”
Plant is the first to admit there is a lot more work to be done. The board still has to choose a new executive director, which he expects will happen in late September.
“I believe our actions are louder than words,” Plant said. “I believe we’ve got things going in the right direction. Just be patient. There is a lot more to do than I ever imagined.”
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