Winning is no coincidence
What is the secret to delivering when it really matters? Meet the medal machine Harald Østberg Amundsen, who bagged four medals in six days during the championships week in Oberwiesenthal (GER).
“Winning the 30-kilometer skate race at the 2020 FIS U23 Nordic World Championships was the overall season goal, but the bronze medal in the sprint was huge,” says the 21-year-old Norwegian.
Harald Østberg Amundsen was on the podium in every competition, taking home a medal from all the three individual events at the World Championships as well as a gold from the mixed relay – where his twin sister Hedda Østberg Amundsen anchored Norway to the victory.
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Winning the 30-kilomter skate race at the World Championships was Østberg Amundsen’s main goal for the season, but earning the bronze medal in the sprint race was almost as satisfying, he explains.
“I had the 30-kilometer skate at the World Championships as my big, hairy goal for the season, and the victory in this race was my best result and biggest performance there. It was such an amazing feeling to achieve the goal I had trained for the entire season. At the same time, winning a medal in the sprint was a huge bonus,” says Østberg Amundsen, and explains:
“The sprint was an event and a distance where I didn’t expect to do so well. Although I know I can ski fast in a sprint and I have been the fastest in the qualifier several times, I just haven’t done so well in the heats. Finally, this time everything worked out all the way to the final.”
Østberg Amundsen explains that the success in the sprint, which was the first event at the World Championships, also sent him off on a good note for the rest of the races.
“I was really nervous prior to the sprint on Sunday. But when that race went so well, I could lower my shoulders a little bit. I had proven that I was in shape, and by winning a medal in the sprint, I had already delivered at the World Championships. Going into my second race, the 15-kilometer classic two days later, I was calm and ready to just race as fast as I could. When that race also went well, and I won the silver medal, I was just super excited for the 30-kilometer skate race on Thursday, where I nailed everything right and won the gold medal. So, the bronze medal in the sprint was really big,” Østberg Amundsen says.
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How do you manage to perform your very best at just the right time?
“Skiing fast and delivering in the important events depends on several factors. Of course, you’ve got to have the right skis and time your peaking plan right, but the mental component is huge,” Østberg Amundsen says.
So, do you simply have championship mindset?
“Maybe. But getting there is a lot about the mental edge, being able to control your tension right despite it being a championship event or other important races. Over time, I’ve become pretty good at controlling my thoughts and emotions that I have prior to these kinds of events. It’s really easy to get too fired up when your’e at a big event, and then you often don’t focus on what you need to do during the race. A lot of people tend to think too hard about skiing super-fast, but then you just get tense, you don’t find the flow and you don’t ski your best. And you definitely don’t try new things at important races, but warm up exactly the way you normally do and stick to your usual routines. Performing at the right moment is actually about doing everything the same way as you always do, but given the importance of the event you’re generally able to dig a little deeper, and you manage to pull off that extra gear.”
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How do you train your mental edge?
“I imagine this is different for different people. But for me, I’ve found that it’s useful to just race a lot. I think about the races where I’ve done well and try to think about what I did then, how I prepared for those races, what I did just before the start and so on, and try to figure out if there is anything I can derive from this that will be relevant on a general basis.”
And how do you apply this in practice?
“When I am headed to the start for an important event, I try to relax. I think about exactly what my tasks are for the race, focus on breathing and remind myself that I have a plan that I trust. Then I calm down and relax, and that’s when I ski the fastest.”