Art and Athleticism at the Olympics

Art and Athleticism at the Olympics

How is a singer like an Olympic athlete?

As a singer and performer, I find watching the figure skaters particularly inspiring.  Yesterday, I watched Mirai Nagasu’s silver medal-winning short program in which she was the first ever American woman to perform a triple axle.

Mirai has a lot to teach us about the combination of art and athleticism, about training and practicing, and about never giving up.  According to Business Insider, when Mirai didn’t make the team for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, she was heartbroken.  However, instead of giving up, she became more determined than ever to improve as a skater.  She told her coach Tom Zakrajsek that she wanted to master the triple axle – a difficult feat especially as she was already in her 20’s, past the age when most skaters learn new tricks.

According to Zakrajsek, she practiced the jump 30 times a day for almost four years.  “Mirai craves repetition” he said.

As singers, we train to master difficult melodic jumps, phrases that require lots of breath support and many other technical challenges.   Many times, the singers I work with get frustrated with themselves when they are not able to fix these technical difficulties immediately. 

Like Mirai, we have to have patience, and sometimes we have to drill technique over and over until we can not only execute it flawlessly, but make it seem effortless.  When technique becomes muscle memory, then the artistry can come in. 

Finally, we have to be able to do this  in front of an audience,  under circumstances we can’t control and are often  less than perfect.  For example, we might be tired, or someone in the  audience might be distracting, or the sound system may not be great.

Not only were the stakes incredibly high for Mirai Nagasu – her team depended upon her, every move was being scored by the judges, and she was being watched my millions around the world –  but she also had to work around other challenges.  According to the New York Times, in order to accommodate North American viewers, the figure skating competitions – which usually take place in the afternoon or evening – were scheduled to start at 10:00 AM, meaning that the skaters had to get out on the ice as early as 5:00 AM for practice, with no time for rest before the competition.

How do you rise above the challenges and deal with the mental pressure of performing in such a high-stakes situations? Watch this excellent video series on “Inside the Mind of an Olympian” for some pre-performance strategies to deal with nerves and stay concentrated.  I hope this will inspire you for your next performance!


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