Gearing up for the Games

Julie Chu and the U.S. women's hockey team will play their first Olympic game on Saturday against Finland. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Well, we’re here! On Feb. 1 we flew to Munich for athlete processing, and we got all our USA gear and village wear for the Olympic Games. It’s always an exciting process, and it pretty much feels like Christmas in February! It really solidified the feeling that we are Olympians and we’re here to represent the United States.

From processing to the moment you get to the Olympic Village, it’s so exciting to see all the athletes (from other sports) we’ve never gotten to meet before. Just hanging out in the Olympic Village dining hall is one of the coolest things. Everyone eats in the same place, which makes it a really interesting collection of people. I love being among the other athletes from all the different nations. One time, at the Vancouver Olympics, I was sitting next to the British curling team and got a chance to chat with them for a while; another time it was players from the Norwegian men’s ice hockey team.

There are always so many things to do and experience -- we are at this incredible event with all these temptations to do really cool things. But we’ve been really successful in the past by staying within our own little bubble, so we want to continue to do that, too.

We’ll keep the routine as much as we can -- if we’ve been doing team meals a certain way, we’re going to keep doing that. I like my game-day naps, and I’m going to stick with that when it makes sense. We’re trying to bring as much consistency as we can into the Olympic environment. Our warm-up and recovery are just as important now as they were four years ago, and a month ago. If we need to see a massage therapist or physio, we take care of those things first.

Like anything, while it’s exciting, we have to stay within ourselves and not get overextended. We’ll compete over a 12-day period, so at the beginning we’re going to be full of energy, but naturally over the long tournament we’re going to get a little bit more tired and worn down. What we choose to do at the beginning of the tournament really makes a difference later on.

At the end of the day, it comes down to staying in the moment, too. Obviously, we want to win a gold medal, but it takes a lot of time and effort before we even get to that gold-medal day. We have to make sure we’re prepared and we’re executing in order to get our chance to play in the gold-medal game! People are always asking, “Oh, your rivalry with Canada -- are you excited for the gold-medal game?”

Well, OK, but we haven’t even started the first game of the Olympics! Although we imagine and dream about that gold-medal game, the reality is we need to stay focused first on facing Finland on Saturday. The last time we played them, back in November, we actually lost. So we have a lot to prove when we play them again. On any given night, we have to prove we can beat the opponent in front of us.

And I know we can. The speed and skill of our team is awesome. We’ve really pushed the envelope the past four years to develop as a group, and our conditioning is really sound. It’s been a great process. This has definitely been a trying year in a lot of ways, but that’s what the Olympic journey is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be hard at times.

I love looking back and seeing how far we’ve come. We’re heading into our first game with a lot of confidence, but that confidence really is grounded in knowing we have to earn it every single night. Every day we know that our preparation is key and what we do matters. It’s our decision what kind of team we want to be, and we want to be the best.

I know this is my fourth Olympics, but it never gets old. Every time I pull on that USA jersey I feel grateful to be able to compete in such an amazing event. I think the Olympics are the best sporting event in the world. The way they can bring so many nations and people together to celebrate the goodness in athletics is just so special.

I’m looking forward to being a part of it again -- and hopefully helping my teammates win that gold medal.

Julie Chu's previous blog.