Olympic mental skills coach from Pacific Lutheran University talks Sochi

Staff writerFebruary 23, 2014 

Colleen Hacker is among the local contingent returning from the Olympic Village in Sochi, Russia.

The Pacific Lutheran University professor worked at the winter games as the mental skills coach for USA hockey. It was her fifth Olympics as a mental skills coach, but her first time at the winter games.

After traveling what she thinks amounted to 48 hours with little sleep, Hacker spoke with The News Tribune on Tuesday about her Sochi experience.

She said she worked almost exclusively with the women’s hockey team, which took silver after losing 3-2 to Canada in the gold medal match.

Question: What’s your role after the games are over?

Answer: It doesn’t end. It’s a four-year process leading up, it’s three weeks at the games, and after every game my work continues. But certainly after a devastating loss in a gold medal game, the mental toughness training continues. You’re just exhausted. It’s not a good time to make decisions.

Q: What do you think people should know about the games?

A: Americans only care for two weeks, but Olympians train for four years. The team will reconstitute six months from now. Meryl and Charlie (gold medal ice dancing team) went straight to Moscow. They’re going to go on tour.

All the ice skaters, they have world championships in three weeks. Snowboard-ers haven’t been home in three months. 

People have no idea, no clue, what life at that level is like. Mentally and psychologically, what it takes to compete and sustain excellence at this level, very few people, whether they’re athletes or staff, can endure it.

Q: What did you see on the ground in Russia?

A: Closing ceremonies are incredibly festive. People are dancing and singing. It’s a world party. Everybody who is there is done. It’s the culmination of four years of work. There’s a whole camaraderie that’s been developed.

It’s a beautiful Olympic village. The weather (was) stunning. Think about Tacoma or the Northwest on the most beautiful fall day. The mountains are just stunning. Everywhere you see huge flags. I look out my balcony and there’s the Black Sea.

The facilities are fantastic. The hype and the conditions you’re hearing about were outside of the Olympic Village. Inside, things are good. The only negative is Internet. (Staying connected to the) Internet (was) an Olympic sport.

Q: You said this was your first winter games. How was it?

A: I’ve been able to go to short track and see J.R. Celski. I saw his 500-meter race. I’ve been able to go to events to cheer for Team USA, to cheer for our local athletes. Eating meals with all the Team USA athletes, and being really a family. The winter games, because it’s a smaller contingent, it’s more intimate. You’re around everybody all the time.

Q: Any other highlights?

A: I don’t want to name drop, but (I was) riding the bus with people you see on TV in the morning. Being in the fitness center and doing my thing, but watching Olympic athletes go through their sports-specific preparations. That’s an amazing, rare life opportunity.

Every day it’s making new friends and new connections. It’s totally peace and harmony and the world’s entire population in support of one another. The entire world has so much more in common, even with our differences. We’re striving for excellence, we love our families. We cheer for one another.

All of us say every day, why can’t our countries get along the way our athletes and coaches get along?

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268

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