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Making Myself Accountable: Series I

By Nikki Stone
Sports Motivation
Updated: September 21, 2008
Imagine hurtling down a ski slope at 40 miles per hour. You lift off a 73-degree ramp that rockets you some 55 feet above the rapidly disappearing powder below. You perform a series of seemingly impossible twists, turns, and somersaults before landing far down the mountain. Now imagine performing that feat with two damaged spinal discs.

The sport is called aerial skiing. And, I am the athlete who overcame the spinal injury to become America's first Olympic gold medalist in the sport.

How did I bounce back from a potentially career-ending accident to beat the world's elite in Nagano, Japan, in 1998? Accountability.

As I approached the Nagano games, I made myself accountable. I wanted the world to know that I planned on winning the gold medal. I wasn't just taking part. I wanted the gold and I needed to admit that to myself first before I could share it with others.

But getting to Nagano would be was a long and rocky ride for me.

Rising to the top Growing up as a gymnast, I took to the nascent sport of aerial skiing at the age of 18. From the very beginning I excelled at this physically demanding and incredibly fast sport. As I fine-tuned my techniques, I rapidly rose to international promise. By the time the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, rolled around, I was ranked third in the world. Many expected me to win a medal.
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To avoid the pressure, when the press asked me what my goals were, I told everyone that I was just happy to be part of the Olympics. Believe me, that medal was easily still on my mind, but I told everyone I was just happy to take part so that I didn't have to admit that I failed if I didn't win the medal.

To make matters worse, I allowed myself to be distracted by the pomp and pageantry of the Games. I was actually thinking more about appearing on the Letterman Show than on my performance.

With stars in my eyes, it meant no medal around my neck. I just missed finals finishing in a disappointing 13th place. I had to sit and watch Lina Tcheratsova, a girl from Uzbekistan, stand on the Olympic podium and proudly listen to her country's anthem.

My disappointing finish fueled the fire for future competitions. I was determined that the next anthem the world would hear after the 1998 Olympic aerial competition would be American.

Looking back at what had happened in Lillehammer, I realized I hadn't held myself accountable to win the gold. When you don't hold yourself accountable, it takes the pressure off and allows you to accept mediocrity. And that's what happened to me.

Now laser-focused on winning, I began holding myself accountable at each and every World Cup competition. (Author's note: The World Cup is an annual competition that is held in the years between the Olympics).
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