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Beijing, China. November 11, 2005. That is where my Olympic journey began. We [the Swiss national women's hockey team] scored in the final seconds of the decisive final game against the favorites from China to qualify for the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino.
Some say that just being at the Olympics is an experience, but going in with that attitude would mean death on the battlefield. Not one athlete I met during my two weeks in the Olympic village was just happy to be there - they all wanted to win. No matter how they were ranked, they wanted more (it's our competitive nature!). During the year after qualifying for the Olympics, my team stepped up our training both physically and mentally. We wanted to show the world that we could compete with the best.
The Olympic experience is very hard to explain. I personally found that my experience was divided into two parts. The first part was the competition itself. For two weeks, all the years of preparation were put into action and judged. Loving a sport so much makes the competition really fun. It was nerve-wracking playing against the best players in the world, but we stepped up to the challenge.
Some people may think that once you are at the Olympics the hard part is over, but I have never been so physically and mentally drained in my life. For two weeks, hockey was literally my life. I've played in many tournaments over the years, but none have even remotely compared to the intensity of this one. Admittedly, focusing was not always easy. Constantly being surrounded by famous athletes (many of whom had been my idols) made it hard not to stare in awe or "accidentally" end up behind them in line in the cafeteria!
My team showed a lot of character though - regrouping after a few tough losses and showing up ready for the next challenge. We finished the tournament in style, coming out strong in our last game against Italy to earn our 7th spot.
It was after that final game that the second part of my experience began. That was when I realized that I was actually at the Olympics and that Torino wasn't only about hockey. I was able to go to other events and shows - enjoy the Olympics as a spectator. I was also finally allowed to let loose. It was fun having the opportunity to meet and interact with other athletes. Those last three days really helped with the transition back into the real world.
It's still hard to believe that I was actually there. Now that it's done, it's time to start preparing for Vancouver 2010. All you big hockey countries watch out!
Laura Ruhnke is a Swiss-Canadian McGill BCom student who played with the Martlets '02 to '05, currently living in Switzerland to be close to her team. Her club team, Lugano, recently won the Swiss national championships.