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Owens takes pressure off for Olympic finale

17 July 2013

FREESTYLE SKIING: When Jenny Owens competes at her third and final Olympic Winter Games next February she is hoping for only one thing – to finish with a smile on her face.

Four years ago at the Vancouver Games, it was a very different reality.

As she crossed the finish line in third place in the quarter-final of the freestyle discipline of ski cross, Owens’ Olympic dream was over, her goal of finishing on the podium was not realised. For half an hour she leant on the barrier at the bottom of the course in tears, unable to face the media - unable to face the reality of it all being over.

Owens went into the 2010 Olympics carrying the weight of a knee injury that required surgery for years leading into the competition. Literally unable to walk but still able to ski, Owens damaged her knee on the first training jump of the Vancouver Games and from there it was next to impossible for her to achieve her podium goal.

Unwilling to end her career on that note, she left Vancouver determined to give her career one last chance. Fast forward three years and after much needed knee surgery, Owens is now preparing for her third Games and Olympic swan-song. One thing she is not thinking about however, is a medal.

“I am absolutely not even thinking about that!” Owens said. “I was a medal contender at the last Olympics and I really caved under pressure.

“I would really like to finish my season being satisfied with what I have done and accomplished what I have needed to, and if I get a medal that is just a bonus to it all.”

Owens has her injuries under control and is in peak physical fitness however her recent competitions have been filled with ups and downs.

Gold at a FIS race in Mittenwald, Germany as well as bronze in a Europa Cup in Lenk, Switzerland this year have been positive signs for the 35-year-old. Add to that her breakthrough X-Games medal in 2012, and Owens has shown form of being capable of a medal in Sochi. The pressure of major World Cup and World Championship competitions however has been affecting her performance when it counts the most.

“Every race this year that didn’t have a meaning to it, that wasn’t a World Cup, [such as] a Europa Cup or a FIS race, where World Cup girls were at – I was on the podium every time. But then I would get to a World Cup and just put too much pressure on myself and cave.”

Owens chose to leave the 2013 season early, focusing on recovery for her body and starting to work with a sports psychologist to overcome her mental struggles with pressure.

“My preparation for the Games has been going really well,” Owens said with the Games now less than six months away. “I am working on my mental game as that seems to be where most of my troubles have come from over the past years.”

“I have put this into practice in the gym which has been going really, really well. I’ve been making massive gains and surprising myself every day, giving my confidence a massive boost.”

Owens will now move her mental training onto the snow, where she hopes to make the same gains.

With a light domestic season for ski cross ahead of her, she will concentrate on testing equipment, ski training and continuing to work on her mental game more to ensure she is as ready as she can be for the first World Cup in December.

And come February she won’t be focused on a medal but on getting the absolute most out of her Olympic experience.

“I don’t want to be hiding in the finish area from the media because I am afraid to cry,” she said with light hearted reflection. “If I am crying I hope it’s just that I’m excited and relieved it is over and I just want a smile on my face at the end of the day!”

If Owens is successful in her quest to compete in Sochi, it will be her third Olympic campaign, having finished 13th in the ski cross in Vancouver and a best result of 9th in the super combined alpine skiing event in Salt Lake City 2002 – Australia’s second best alpine result in history.

Australia hopes to qualify three women to compete in ski cross at the Winter Olympics, taking place in Sochi from 7 – 23 February 2014 in Russia.

Alice Wheeler

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