Lillehammer in 1994 was my first Olympic Games and, oh my gosh, I don’t think anything can ever prepare you for your first opening ceremony. It was incredible. And what made the Lillehammer Games even more special for me was that my brother, who was also an aerialist, was there too because he was coaching the Australian freestyle team. It was very cool to know that he was at the Opening Ceremony along with me and my entire family was in the crowd so it was a real family affair.
It’s so difficult to put into words what it feels like to walk into the stadium representing your country. I had to pinch myself to convince myself that I was actually walking in along with the team and not sitting in the stands watching. For so many years I’d watched opening ceremonies on the television and so it’s so surreal to actually be there. It still gives me butterflies in my stomach thinking about it.
When the US entered the stadium, it really took my breath away because I just couldn’t believe that I was finally competing on the Olympic stage. To be at the biggest sporting event in the world, representing my country – it was such an honour and once it’s over, it’s difficult to describe the feelings because you’re so in the moment.
Lillehammer was a magnificent Winter Olympics – the country did an amazing job and it was incredible to be a part of it. To walk into such an incredible stadium alongside all the other countries from around the world and know that every single person there was at the top of their game was a really cool experience.
In Nagano in 1998, I wasn’t able to go to the Opening Ceremony – we were still at our training camp and it was really sad to miss out on that. But I did go to the Closing Ceremony in Nagano and that was really cool because the Games were getting handed onto Salt Lake City, which was my home town.
It’s so difficult to process everything at the end of an Olympic Games. I had a teammate describe it in a great way – if you can imagine holding your breath for four years and then finally, you’re able to exhale, it’s just exhausting. I had an injury coming out of Nagano and I knew that I needed a break. For me, it wasn’t merely about going to the Olympics, it was about putting myself in a position to win and although that never happened for me, I always knew if I had a great day, I could win. So my thought process at the end of Nagano was that I needed a rest. I knew that Salt Lake City would be amazing but at that point, I wasn’t actually thinking about 2002.
Four years after Nagano though, I did make it into the team for the Games in Salt Lake City. It is so rare in an athlete’s life that you get to even compete in an Olympic Games, it’s even rarer to compete in an Olympics in your home country so to compete in an Olympic Games in your home town is just so incredibly rare. To have that opportunity was just amazing. So many members of my family came to support and it was amazing for my final Olympics to be at home.
What was even more unique about Salt Lake City was that we were just coming off the tragedy of 9/11. As the host country in 2002, we were the last team to march into the stadium and so there was a reception for the team as the Opening Ceremony was going on and President Bush came and met with the team and talked with us.
At that point, we felt such togetherness about our country having gone through 9/11. It added a really patriotic layer to those Games for our team. I know there’d been discussions about whether the Games could even go ahead because it was only a few months later, and so all of that made it a really special Games.
Salt Lake City was my last Winter Olympics, but it didn’t really hit me until after the Games were over because during the Games, I was so caught up in everything. Being something of a veteran athlete at Salt Lake, I was so much more aware of making sure I really took everything in and soaked the entire experience up. And because I did know that Salt Lake City was going to be my last Olympics, I made sure I really, really enjoyed it.
It was at the Closing Ceremony when it really started to really hit me that things were coming to an end and that was emotional. I’d dedicated so many years of my life to skiing and that chapter was now ending. It’s always hard for an athlete to transition away from sport because all of a sudden, everyone’s saying “OK, it’s all over”. So that was a strange feeling but Salt Lake City was definitely a great Games to finish on.